Belatedly, but no less relevantly, I was directed to the following Letter to Editor published in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday. It is from a British Army officer who was (still is?) in Basra. Its content was heartily approved by the Samizdata’s own Our Man in Basra – his quotable comment was I could have written every word myself…
Sir, I am a serving Army officer. Publication of photographs that are faked – as appears to be the growing consensus – does not assist our soldiers on the ground but, while such abuse is intolerable to us, brutalised Iraqi opinion differs from ours. Most Iraqis are baffled as to why we do not employ such methods.
Suggestions I have encountered while working with Iraqi governance institutions in Basrah include: crushing looters’ hands, wiring pylon saboteurs to the national grid and hanging rioters by the neck and beating them to death.
In Iraqi eyes, it is not through torture that we have failed Iraq. One year on from liberation, improvements have not materialised. We still seek military solutions to problems caused by policy. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) inherited and perpetuated a Soviet-style centralised bureaucracy without the clear central direction or the threats to back it up that made the Ba’athist system work.
Poor salary decisions mean that operating budgets cannot be paid, so, while there are new police cars, they have no fuel and Iraqi jails lack money for food.
On March 13, after nine months of operations, the Rapid Regional Response Programme, the CPA’s principal project fund for improving Iraqi life had, in the South, identified almost $42 million (£23.5 million) of projects but, owing to excessively bureaucratic contracting, completed only a shameful $627,671 worth. Emergency Infrastructure Project funding achieved more, but millions of dollars worth of projects will not be completed when the June deadline expires.
Yet many Iraqis will endure all this for freedom and democracy. In terms of freedom, Iraqis are still arrested, held indefinitely without trial and, apparently, tortured. In terms of democracy, the CPA, fearing calls for national elections in which Islamic parties may succeed, has banned direct, democratic elections in favour of caucus-style selections derided as undemocratic by most Iraqis.
Meanwhile, those such as Moqtada al-Sadr, the rogue cleric regarded by most Iraqis as a foolish upstart whose lack of support would be revealed by polling, terrorise the country with armed militias. Next month, the CPA will hand over sovereignty and responsibility to an Iraqi nation singularly unequipped to cope.
Iraqis I have spoken to confirm that ousting Saddam was the right thing to do, but if overturning unpleasant regimes is to become a regular feature of foreign policy, we should ensure we have something better to replace them with.
In short, cherchez le politicien.