Skip to comments.Suddenly, It's 'America Who?'
Posted on 02/05/2005 5:30:16 PM PST by saquin
BAGHDAD, Iraq Through 22 months of occupation and war here, the word "America" was usually the first word to pass through the lips of an Iraqi with a gripe.
Why can't the Americans produce enough electricity? Why can't the Americans guarantee security? Why can't the Americans find my stolen car?
Last week, as the euphoria of nationwide elections washed over this country, a remarkable thing happened: Iraqis, by and large, stopped talking about the Americans.
With the ballots still being counted here, the Iraqi candidates retired to the back rooms to cut political deals, leaving the Americans, for the first time, standing outside. In Baghdad's tea shops and on its street corners, the talk turned to which of those candidates might form the new government, to their schemes and stratagems, and to Iraqi problems and Iraqi solutions.
And for the United States, the assessments turned unfamiliarly measured.
"We have no electricity here, no water and there's no gasoline in the pumps," said Salim Mohammed Ali, a tire repairman who voted in last Sunday's election. "Who do I blame? The Iraqi government, of course. They can't do anything."
Asked about the American military presence here, Mr. Ali chose his words carefully.
"I think the Americans should stay here until our security forces are able to do the jobs themselves," Mr. Ali said, echoing virtually every senior American officer in Iraq. "We Iraqis have our own government now, and we can invite the Americans to stay."
The Iraqi focus on its own democracy, and the new view of the United States, surfaced in dozens of interviews with Iraqis since last Sunday's election. It is unclear, of course, how widespread the trend is; whole communities, like the Sunni Arabs, remain almost implacably opposed to the presence of American forces. But by many accounts, the elections last week altered Iraqis' relationship with the United States more than any single event since the invasion.
Since April 9, 2003, when Saddam Hussein's rule crumbled, Iraqis have viewed themselves more or less as American subjects. American officials ran their government, American soldiers fought their war, American money paid to rebuild Iraq.
Indeed, the American project to implant democracy in Iraq often seemed to be in danger of falling victim to the country's manifest political passivity, born of a quarter-century of torture centers, mass graves, free food and pennies-a-gallon gasoline. The more the Americans tried to nudge the Iraqis towards self-government, the more the Iraqis expected the Americans to do.
As the insurgents wreaked more and more havoc, and sabotaged more and more of the country's power supply, the Iraqis, not surprisingly, blamed the people in charge. Day by day, many Iraqis' gratitude for the toppling of Saddam Hussein seemed to harden into bitterness and contempt.
After June 28, when American suzerainty here formally ended, not many Iraqis bought the notion that the interim government of Ayad Allawi was anything other than a caretaker regime, hand-picked by the Americans and the United Nations.
All that seemed to change last Sunday, when millions of Iraqis streamed to the polls. Few if any Iraqis had ever voted in anything approaching a free election, yet most seemed to know exactly what the exercise was about: selecting their own representatives to lead their own country.
"Our dilemma is solved," said Rashid Majid, 80, who wore his best jacket to the polls. "We will follow our new leaders, because we have chosen them."
Some Iraqis saw in the election their own liberation, one that many did not feel on April 9, 2003. Mr. Hussein's regime was not toppled by Iraqis but by the American military, a fact that has lingered in Iraqi minds.
Yet after casting ballots in a free election, conducted by more than 100,000 Iraqi poll workers, many Iraqis said they finally felt free - not only from the terrors of the old regime, but also from acute feelings of humiliation about the American occupation.
"The election was a victory of our own making," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser. "The Iraqi people voted with their own blood."
The newfound self-respect that Mr. Rubaie believes the election conferred on ordinary Iraqis seems to have had an immediate impact on their view of the United States. Suddenly empowered with the vote, Iraqis no longer seem to view America as all-powerful, or themselves as unable to affect events. A result has been a suddenly more accepting view of the United States.
The realism among Iraqis was evident on election day itself. Amid the euphoria of voting, America, which had almost always been the first topic of conversation, was suddenly evanescent, unmentioned in a score of interviews unless a reporter raised it first. And when Iraqis did talk of America, it was with a reasonableness and patience that had seemed missing, a willingness to balance good with bad, to give credit where it is due.
This transition seemed all the more striking for the fact that Apache helicopters roared over the polling centers every few minutes with American troops manning checkpoints only a few blocks away.
Hachim Shahir, an 83-year-old bricklayer standing in line for hours to vote, was asked how it had been possible for somebody like him to arrive at such a late stage in life without ever having voted, and now finally to have cast a ballot. He thought for a long while, then answered: "America - it was America that did it."
And how did he feel about that?
"America will be good if it completes what it came here to do, to bring us democracy, and then it goes home," Mr. Shahir said. "The main thing now is that they keep their promises, and leave. Personally, I believe they will do it."
The new mood appears to have continued since election day. The calls by candidates for a timetable for American military withdrawal have died away. Even a group of Sunni politicians decided last week that they would take part in the drafting of Iraq's new constitution without insisting on a timetable.
Getting Iraqis to take charge of their own affairs, whether by fighting insurgents or taking over government ministries, has been the goal of American leaders here since the fall of Saddam Hussein. After 22 months of trying to persuade the Iraqis to stand on their own, while doing everything for them, the Americans may be finding that Iraqis, now fully sovereign, don't want them to go home so soon after all.
Talk about a bald-faced attempt to spin down the success of the Bush Admin against all the naysayers.
No, the Iraqis aren't thanking America. They just have forgotten what we did.
To quote the late great Dean Wormer, "I hate those guys".
The New York Times? Is the war over in Iraq or what?
You mean the NYT printed this? Pinch must be out of the country for this to make it to the pages.
...asked how it had been possible for somebody like him to arrive at such a late stage in life without ever having voted, and now finally to have cast a ballot. He thought for a long while, then answered: "America - it was America that did it."
They haven't forgotten what we did. But they've stopped blaming every problem on us, expecting us to do everything for them and projecting all their hopes and fears and frustrations on us. That's a good thing. It's their country.
Wow! A decent article from the NY Slimes.
I'm not blaming the Iraqis. I am blaming the Slimes. Notice that the paragraph you referenced was buried below the premilinary spin.
It must have been really hard for the NYT's to publish this
Gawd it must really stick in the craw of the NYT editors to have to publish this column....
I know. I guess I just didn't read it the same way as you. I don't think it's a bad thing that the Iraqis have stopped incessantly talking about "the Americans" so I don't think it's bad that the Times article says that. Overall, it's a very positive article.
I feel proud of the Iraqis in a big brother-little brother way. It's satisfying to see them starting to stand up and take responsibility for themselves. W said this would happen.
No, this is a good thing. The Iraqis are looking to themselves for the things they need, not to us. Did you read the rest of the article?
Now that they feel sovereign, they accept our presence more than ever, knowing they can ask us to leave if they choose, and we will do it.
This is key to understanding the Iraqis. In their eyes, by removing Hussein, we made the Iraqi people look weak and impotent. It's their time now.
I look at placement within the article. Look at how it started:
BAGHDAD, Iraq Through 22 months of occupation and war here, the word "America" was usually the first word to pass through the lips of an Iraqi with a gripe. Why can't the Americans produce enough electricity? Why can't the Americans guarantee security? Why can't the Americans find my stolen car?
It's never about the insurgents sabotaging the infrastructure. It's never about the remnants of the Saddam regime. It's the fault of the Americans.
And then, suddenly, the story isn't about realizing that the Americans brought the good of the election. It goes from BAD AMERICANS to BAD IRAQI GOVERNMENT. And no statement of the good of the election itself.
Sorry, I can't see anything but a positive statement of achievement here. If what this writer says is true, we accomplished our goal.
See my post #16. This is the Slimes trying to spin this in the worst possible way.
I think it's a great thing.
Where in this article is the acknowledgement that none of this would have happened without America? Look at this sentence:
And when Iraqis did talk of America, it was with a reasonableness and patience that had seemed missing, a willingness to balance good with bad, to give credit where it is due.
For cryin' out loud, these people owe their freedom to us. And most realize that. But the Slimes is trying to dilute that fact.
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