The Straight Word....Straight from an Iraqi Citizen (PART 1)
Yesterday, I took some time to sit down with one of our interpreters and ask his some questions about the US impact on Iraq in the last 2 years. While the following account of my interview is not direct quotes, be sure that there has been no "journalistic license" nor any additions to thoughts conveyed to me by the interpreter.
First off, let's call him "Steve". Steve possesses a very high level of education.
My first question to Steve was this: "Can you tell me three things that have gotten better since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime??"
He then told me that people are making more money since the fall of Saddam. The average salary, he says, was $1 a month, and that's not a typo. There was very widespread poverty, because there was simply not a lot of money circulating in the economy.
He also said that there were no workers rights. No overtime pay, no re-employment rights, nothing of the sort. He mentioned the salaries again, saying that if you made $3 a month, you were doing well.
The third thing he mentioned was that the economy has stabilized in the last two years. He said "You could go to the market one week and pay 15 dinar for an item. The next week, they might have none at all. The next week, the item might be 170 dinar. You never knew if they were gonna have what you wanted, or if they did, you never knew if you were gonna be able to afford it. That made it very hard to feed your family." He also said there was so many more things than three improvements... that it would be impossible to talk about them all.
My next question was about the elections. I asked about his voting experience.
"When Saddam held elections, when we went to the ballot box, a security man from Saddam was at the ballot box. He would say, "Give it to me," and he would make a mark for you on the paper and put it in the box. So we know that this was a lie, but we could not speak about it, because we were scared that he (Saddam) would kill us."
"My mother said "We must go to the polls!" My whole family went to vote. My brother was an interpreter with the Marines in Fallujah, and he could not vote on that day because he was working, but they made sure that he was given a time and place to cast his vote."
"We cried when we saw the voting. My mother cried tears of joy when we saw the voting. We were so happy that the American forces were here to let us vote. We saw the soldiers and the helicopters keeping us safe. We were so grateful for the Coalition Forces."
I piped in and mentioned to him that we only secured the cities and routes; the IA and IP secured the polling sites, in order to maintain the integrity of the process. To this he replied: "We are sure of the purity of the elections. We have no doubts."
I then asked "How important is it that there be a balanced, fair, and multi-lateral government?"
He replied, "Very important. The Shia and Kurd did not have rights since 1920, when Iraq gained its independence from the British. The minority Sunni ruled this country for 83 years, using fear as its main weapon. That is the only way a minority can rule, by using fear and cruelty. You must have equal rights." He also mentioned that "this is a good start."
My next question was this: "How is the current leadership accepted by the general population. Is the country happy witht the balance of power?"
He said that the Sunnis believe that the US put the Kurds in too powerful of a position. They erroneously believe that we put them there. "That is why the mujaheddin still fight their Jihad." But the rest of the population, he says, is making a concerted effort to accept a mulit-lateral balance of power.
This is the first part of two or possibly three posts about the same interview... stay tuned, folks.