To Many, Mission Not Accomplished
Residents Say Occupation's Unkept Promises, Military Tactics Fuel Resistance
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 3, 2004; Page A01
BAQUBAH, Iraq, June 2 -- Stately in the black turban and flowing robes that marked him as a senior Shiite Muslim cleric, Ali Abdul Kareem Madani received petitioners sitting cross-legged on a fine carpet. One after the other, they streamed in all day to tell him their woes and their needs.
Two factotums, standing on either flank of the soft-spoken dignitary, waved straw fans to keep him cool in the oppressive heat. The electric ceiling fan just above his head was motionless, as the power was out again in this fruit-growing farming hub 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.
"We blame the coalition forces for the lack of electricity," Madani said solemnly, as if handing down a religious interpretation. "After one year of occupation, a great country like the United States is not able to set up a big generator to give this city electricity?"
For many Iraqis, the 13-month-old U.S. occupation has failed to live up to its billing as an exercise in reconstruction and democracy-building. Like Madani, they are glad that former president Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and a new interim government has been installed in Baghdad. But most of Baqubah's approximately 250,000 people -- and most Iraqis around the country -- have experienced the U.S. presence here mainly at the wrong end of a gun. It is that, and not the news from Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, that informs their views.
"We don't see any civilians," Madani complained. "All we see are soldiers."
A relentless campaign of bombings and ambushes by insurgents determined to drive out the U.S. occupation has forced the military to continue a battle that soldiers thought was finished more than a year ago, when President Bush announced the end of major combat operations. The result has been persistent clashes, nighttime raids, armored patrols and detentions -- the blunt instruments of war -- that have led many Iraqis of different political and religious persuasions to resent the occupation they once welcomed.
Insurgents have organized into coherent guerrilla groups and forced U.S. authorities to deal with them as such in Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, and around Najaf, 90 miles south of the capital. In countless other locations, including Baghdad and around Baqubah, they have remained underground. But in either case, the struggle has pushed U.S. soldiers into an aggressive military role that is the face of the occupation for most Iraqis.
"If you want to give us freedom, a sort of democracy, then you don't kill people, you don't destroy houses, you don't run over cars with your tanks," said Saad Abdul-Jabbar, a journalist in Baqubah who writes for the independent Zaman newspaper in Baghdad. "This only creates hatred."
Madani has his own reasons for disliking the U.S. occupation. He returned to Baqubah on May 25 after nearly 10 months in seven different Army detention centers, where he was taken after being accused of promoting anti-U.S. violence early in the occupation.
The charges against him have not been dropped, U.S. officials said. But Army Col. Dana J.H. Pittard, who recently took command here and realized Madani's position of influence, helicoptered to Umm Qasr -- about 325 miles to the southeast, at the head of the Persian Gulf -- to secure his release from prison and escort him home, according to Iraqi and U.S. sources.
Pittard has shown himself to be a gentleman, Madani said, but the gesture did not change his views on the U.S. occupation.
U.S. authorities in Baghdad have mainly blamed the violent insurgency for delays in rebuilding. Civilian contractors have retreated from the field, and often from the country, they note, and civilian U.S. officials have been hobbled by stringent security restrictions.
But for Madani, the converse is true: The delays in rebuilding have been a big reason for the violence. Thousands of young men, having been told their country would be swiftly rebuilt, have not found jobs, he said. And Baqubah's merchants, having heard of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts, still have not seen the money flow or the return of municipal services.
"Services?" asked a Baqubah merchant known as Abu Ziad as he gestured toward the open sewage running in front of his sundries shop. "Look at that. Look at that. They say they have spent millions. Where are they? I tell you, it was better before."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Ali Abdul Kareem Madani, a Shiite cleric in the Iraqi city of Baqubah, hears out citizens while being fanned by aides.
(Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)