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|US Brings Somalia-Like Chaos to Iraq|
The Baltimore Sun, June 2003
Baltimore, 1 June 2003 (Arab News) - There are no police. Nobody makes anything. People grow no gardens. You can’t telephone anywhere, send or receive a letter. No electricity runs through the lines above the streets. The underground cables have been dug up, the copper sold off.
There is no drinkable water; the city’s pipes have been excavated and sold. There are no ambulances. Nobody puts out fires or repairs the roads. The only occupation is looting.
Baghdad today? No, not yet.
These paragraphs are from a report in The Baltimore Sun on Aug. 23, 1992, part of a description of conditions in Mogadishu, Somalia, during the height of that country’s drought and consequent famine, aggravated by conflict between contending warlords.
Then, the famine and fighting took away 1,500 lives a day in Mogadishu alone. It was to correct those conditions, and bring order to that once pastoral land in the Horn of Africa, that the United States dispatched troops four months after this story, and others like it, appeared in newspapers around this country.
The United States had no part in causing the chaos it intervened to put an end to in Somalia, unlike the disarray growing apace these days in Baghdad; that is a direct consequence of the invasion. The United States failed in its mission to Somalia, and withdrew after losing 18 Rangers in October 1993 in a firefight with Somali militia. Somalia fell back into chaos.
There are at least some parallels between the situation in Baghdad today and that sad and embarrassing outcome in Africa, and a lesson that stresses the difficulty of trying to construct from scratch a civil polity with all its parts - a functional bureaucracy with operative legal, political and economic systems that include doctors, lawyers, mail carriers, police officers, street cleaners, etc. And doing it all without a pre-existing foundation to build upon.
After World War II, reconstruction in Japan and Germany was easier. They had been for years highly developed nations, with complex civil societies that the war had put into disarray. Once the rehabilitative projects were set in motion in both countries, many of the people who did the work there went back to work, as before.
In Somalia, there was no such foundation, no such social machine to recondition and set running again. Violent anarchy had been the country’s lot for too many years.
The same might be said, at this point in its history, for Afghanistan. Stable governance, "normal" life, ended basically with the seizure of power by the Communists there in 1978, the subsequent invasion by the Soviet Union and the 10-year war that followed. This led directly to the rise of the Taleban, the fundamentalist movement that the United States made war upon after 9/11. Today, social and political progress is hardly evident in Afghanistan. The US-supported government survives in Kabul, but out in the dusty reaches of the country, progress is a chimera.
As for Iraq, it is becoming evident that the crusade against Saddam Hussein has left the country in a situation that could lead to something similar to Somalia’s plight in 1992, absent the famine. There are people there who can do the important nonpolitical administrative work; they did it under Saddam. But many were members of the Baath Party, Saddam’s instrument of dominance. A good portion of them have been banned by the new US viceroy, L. Paul Bremer III, from participation in any recovery.
For other reasons, the situation in Iraq today is far more dire than the Somalia of a decade ago, if only because of the seismic impact Iraq’s disintegration would have on the region.
It is geopolitically volatile. There are more fault lines to contend with: The well-armed, well-organized Kurds are full of resentment toward those Arabs who progressed at their expense under Saddam, and Turkey is suspicious of Kurdish ambitions.
The Arabs are riven, between Sunnis and Shiites, between secularists and Islamists.
It is likely that Bremer will be forced to deal with the devil and put many of the midlevel functionaries who thrived under Saddam back to work.
Whom else is he to turn to? In both Germany and Japan, many who had collaborated with the wartime regimes were recruited for the recovery, to the dismay of the persecuted.
This situation may inspire feelings of schadenfreude among those who opposed the Iraq war. Such sentiments are unseemly - although no more so than Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s gloating. But one cannot help but wonder what the planners in the Pentagon envisaged when they thought about the aftermath of their war. May be they never really did.