Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Old friends, and a conversation to share.

I was surprised when I saw that the reaction of Iraqis to the subject of prisoners abuse by some American soldiers was not huge as we all expected to see, even it was milder than the one in other Arab countries and especially than that in the Arab media.
I mean about a month ago, we had considerable reactions and somewhat large demonstrations in response to the killing of Hamas leader, and in the mid of maniac reactions from Arab media and people, the absence of large demonstrations and outrage on the streets of Iraq becomes really strange and give rise to questions. Why the Iraqi people are not really upset with this issue?

Is it because of the firm and rapid response from the American officials to these terrible actions?

Or is it because the Iraqi people lack compassion with the majority of these prisoners?
Could it be that the Iraqi people and as a result of decades of torture, humiliation and executions, took these crimes less seriously than the rest of the world?

Or have the majority of Iraqis finally developed some trust in the coalition authorities and in the American army, to sense that these actions must be isolated and will be punished?

I can’t say I have the full answer but I guess it’s a combination of a little bit of all the above.
I can say that at least some Iraqis seemed to have understood the situation and were satisfied with the reaction of the American officials and their promises that the offenders will be punished. While a wide segment of Iraqis seemed indifferent with the issue and only showed their disapproval when they are asked about it, but rarely with what one can call an angry tone, and I’m talking about my personal experience here, as I tried to ask the largest number of people about their feelings before I write about it.
Here I would like to provide a conversation I had with some friends whom I haven’t seen for a long time and met just yesterday. After a few words of greetings that friends usually exchange after not seeing each other for a long time, the conversation turned towards the current situation in Iraq, and as the prisoners abuse issue is the hottest topic nowadays, I started my attempts to discover their points of view about it. They were all upset but they showed satisfaction with the fast and firm reaction of the coalition higher officials and were also impressed by the honesty of the American soldier who reported the abuse and uncovered tha awful behavior of those criminals but at the same time they said that they’re looking forward to “see the offenders get some real punishment, not just directing few harsh words. A sentence for 3 or 4 years in prison will be convenient”. Others showed more understanding to the American law system.
I also noticed that the abuse pictures brought a flashback from the days of Saddam and the way Iraqi prisoners were treated in; a tone of fear was in the voice of my friend “this could happen to me or anyone else. If someone gets randomly arrested (for being near the site of some clashes or violent demonstrations in the wrong time), he might be tortured or humiliated by the prison guards before they recognize that he’s got nothing to do with the insurgency or the terrorists" That I must say will have a very bad effect on encouraging Iraqis to participate in the political process in Iraq.
Later on, we jumped to another topic, which is the GC and the awaited authority hand-over. Two of my friends condemned the reaction of Jalal Talbani to the prisoners issue when he relatively ignored the questions about it and considered the matter to be “secondary”. One of them added “how comes that the highest ranking officers in the coalition, Tony Blair and GWB gave much attention to this matter and severely condemned the abusive behavior of those soldiers in their latest speeches while Mr. Talbani thinks it’s not worth talking about!?
I asked my friend “when did he say that?” and he replied “yesterday. Didn’t you see that? It was shown on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabyea” I told him that I don’t watch these two channels and that he shouldn’t do that too. “But where can I get the news then?” my friend asked. “I personally watch the less evil, BBC and sometimes the new and moderate, Al-Hurra” I answered, and my friend said “ but Al-Hurra doesn’t follow the news as fast as Al-Jazeera does, and their performance in general is still below what’s needed, and I can’t follow the reporters on the BBC, especially when they put a Scottish or an Irish guy to tell the news” I agreed with him that it’s difficult sometime and that we need more options.
Another one started cursing the head of the SCIRI because he promised Iran-in a previous occasion-that Iraq would be responsible for compensating Iran for the damages of the Iraqi-Iran war in the 1980's.

Then came the big question “who do you think is going to lead Iraq in the transitional phase? And will that leader be one of the current members of the GC”? This question was directed to me. I said that I don’t think that the future president will be chosen from inside the GC and I asked my friends back "if you were to choose your president from the GC, whom would you elect”? They all agreed that Adnan Pachachi would be the best available choice in such circumstances. As a matter of fact, I share the same opinion because this man is acceptable to many Iraqis due to his moderate attitudes and clean background and he has no militia or the kind of followers that can abuse their man's power to harm others, break the law or have illegal advantages.
When I said goodbye to my friends I sensed some optimism inside me when I realized they are paying more attention to the future and were not fooled by the Arab media to act only in response to emotions.

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