The Straight Word...Straight from an Iraqi Citizen
In response to some of the comments of my previous interviews, I bring you another installment of interpreter interviews. This interview was conducted with "Bob," another of our terps. "Bob" is actually "Steve's" (from the previous series) brother. These questions are from readers and fellow bloggers Dymphna and Leigh Blackall. Again, I take no jounalistic license with Bob's responses. However, since the questions are not my own, the format of the interview will change a bit. In the body of the interview, my words and thoughts on his responses will be marked, in order to distinguish my thoughts from his.
Q: Are Iraqis becoming more realistic about the time it takes the infrastructure to be re-built...or in some cases, built at all? Sometimes it seems as though it's a "what-have-you-done-for-me-today" attitude. Is that lessening as Iraqis assume more of this task?
Bob replied, "We understand that it will take some time to bring Iraq out of the rubble. We are willing to work to make Iraq like Germany or Japan after the Second World War, shining examples of how a nation can be re-built. We want to make Iraq the jewel of the Middle East, better and higher than our neighbors."
[MDG] Most of the major cities in Germany and Japan were reduced to smoldering piles of rubble 60 years ago. But now, metropolises like Berlin, Frankfurt, Bonn, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are bustling centers of commerce, culture, and technology. These countries have come to prosper after coming nigh on total destruction less than 70 years ago. [/MDG]
Bob continued, "It is hard, though, rebuilding, due to the terrorists. They attack pipelines, power grids, and roads. They also harrass the contractors who work with the Americans, even though their work is for the good of the Iraqi people. Yes; the, as you say, 'what-have-you-done-for-me-attitude' is lessening as we see we must take on more of the task."
Q: What is the one thing they'd like the Americans to do while we're still there?
He mentioned Japan and Germany again, and then went on to say this: "The majority of Shia and Kurd do not want the Americans to leave, because when you do finally go home, the Sunni will once again rise up and fight for power and control of the nation. Seventy percent of the Iraqi people are Shiite, and all the neighboring countries are mainly Sunni, with exception of Iran, which is Shiite, but none of them want to see Iraq recover."
Q: Are they concerned that Shar'ia law will become part of their constitution and do they see the ramifications of that if it happens (see Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc)?
Bob said, "This is a very important question. Yes, the majority of Iraqi want to seperate religion and policy of government. It is a tribal culture that exists in this country. Religion plays a big, big part in this culture. The tribal and religious leaders, and often they are the same man, have large authority in both civic and religious matters. They enforce their religious beliefs on their tribes. The Sheiks, ([MDG] civic leaders, unofficial "mayors" or "city councilmen", if you will [/MDG]) the big guys in the towns, are civilians, but some of them enforce their beliefs on the people, often to participate in the insurgency, or encourage their tribes NOT to vote in the elections. Government should be apart from religion. But the tribal system which we have had for SO LONG is standing in the way."
[MDG] I am gonna insert my opinon here. I believe this ties-in to the people wanting us to maintain a presence here. As long as we are here, in whatever capacity, there will be separation of church and state. [/MDG]
Q: How is medical care for the general public? I ask because Yemen appears to be having an outbreak of polio -- obviously vaccinations aren't being done. How is that in Iraq?
"The government provides free healthcare. If you go to the hospital, it is free, except for major case surgeries. Doctors are paid by a monthly salary from the government. As for vaccinations, I know there is a vaccination campaign going on nationwide, although I do not know what for."
[MDG] There is a MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella} campaign going on right now, and the US Army is playing some role in it, although, as to the scope of American Military involvement, I do not know.
I also know that prescription drugs are very hard to come by here. Medicines are not readily available. All must be bought on the economy, or even out of the country. Doctors write prescriptions, but they are not filled at the hospitals, citizens must go out and try and find these medications, wether on the black market or from local pharmacies. (My source for this information is "Steve", Bob's brother, from previous conversations.) [/MDG]
Q: The general Iraqi, like Iranians, seem to be more educated than a lot of the ME. What is the general attitude towards education? Is school mandatory? What's the literacy level?
"Education is very important to us. We know that in order to succeed in the modern world, we must educate ourselves. The majority of Iraqi's have attended at least high school. When Saddam was our leader, he made most everyone serve in the army, and discouraged higher education. Only Saddam's followers were allowed higher education, and many were allowed to travel abroad and obtain a higher education from foriegn universities at the expense of the Iraqi government."
[MDG] I must point out that Bob and his brother Steve are not Sunni, rather they are Shia, and are not Saddam loyalists. They both have collegiate educations. I believe that he was trying to say that it was much harder to go to college if you were not one of Saddam's minions. [/MDG]
Q: What annoys them most about the allied troops in general? Americans in particular?
"Trying to travel." says Bob, "The convoys are the most annoying. Because you clog the roads with your convoys and huge vehicles. We are afraid to pass or come close to you, for fear of being shot. It used to take three hours to get to Baghdad by car, now it takes 6 or 7, because of checkpoints or army traffic. We just can't drive anywhere without Americans being in the way."
From Leigh Blackall:
Q: G'day MDG. Your interview mentions, "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."
Did you happen to ask him if UN/US sanctions had much to do with this poor economy?
Bob says: "Yes. It is because of the sanctions. It was not the fault of the countries who put sanctions on us, but because of Saddams policies. Saddam made the majority of the country poor, but he blamed it on the US. We did not even have money to buy socks if we tore them. We got a little money from the Oil-for-Food program, but that was all we had to buy food. Saddam's followers got 'big money', land, cars; sometimes 15 or 20 cars, houses, and high paying jobs, while the rest of the problems were laid on the necks of the Iraqi people. We were very poor."
Q: And regarding the democracy - perhaps Suddam's admin just did not have the resources or the will power to impliment and guard a democracy in Iraq - I mean it is costing you guys heaps!
Bob - "Saddam's slogan was dictatorship. He claimed to put on elections, but they were false. Saddam's men would vote for you. You could hold them in your hand who actually wrote "no" in the elections. They were arrested and killed. Wiped out. Whole families. No, if Saddam had applied democracy to Iraq he would have lost power."
[MDG] It is no secret Saddam Hussein was an egomaniacal, murderous, bigoted dictator. He ruled this country with an bloody iron fist. He was the leader of his country, and his every whim as serviced out of fear or by bribery. He killed anyone who challenged him. He was NOT a democratically minded individual. [/MDG]
I am really enjoying doing these interviews. I think it is SO important to get the thoughts and opinions of "Joe Iraqi" out to the world. Keep the questions coming.