"When I first came to Iraq," I told one of the reporters in the press room today, "my thinking was very cut and dried -- that we needed to withdraw American troops from here immediately, like, next week. But now that I've been here for a while, I've come to realize that the situation here is a lot more complex." It is VERY complex. It's time for me to sit down and really think about this. Should U.S. troops stay in Iraq? Or should they leave? At this point, it seems pretty much like a coin toss to me.
One U.S. soldier I talked to said, "I think that the situation here in Iraq is very similar to back when the mob ruled Chicago in the 1930s and the Untouchables had to go in and clean up the town. We can't leave here until we've cleaned the place up."
And another soldier I talked with agreed. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe in this mission. We just can't leave right now. There'd be a bloodbath."
So I got to thinking that maybe it IS a good thing for American troops to stay here. But then I got a wake-up-call from my friend Angela. "Jane, did any of the soldiers you talked to ever ask you about what is going on in the rest of the world and why everyone -- besides Bush and the neo-cons -- wants the Americans out of Iraq? And what about torture and all? Was anyone willing to comment on that? What about the more than one million dead Iraqis -- any comment there? And what about the two million who have left the country and fled?" Good grief! I forgot about that. Am I being brainwashed over here? Am I being lured into accepting the Bush version of the occupation by all that fabulous food served at the DFac?
I need to be fair and balanced! I need to interview an Insurgent! "What are my chances of getting an interview with The Other Side?" I asked a fellow reporter.
"Just about zero. Unless you are willing to tie yourself to a stake in the Red Zone and wait to get kidnapped...." Hummm. Exactly how far am I willing to go for a story?
"What about if I go out interview an insurgent out at Abu Ghraib?"
"You wouldn't even be able to get near the place." So I settled for taking a spin around the block in a Humvee. Those things are so cool. When you are behind the wheel of one of those puppies, NOBODY gets in your way!
When I got back from joy-riding, I talked with a journalist who had been kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalist extremists about a year ago and he said, "Basically those guys are psychopaths and will kill anyone who gets in their way -- Muslim or non-Muslim."
"What makes them like that?" I wondered.
"Many of them, like Saddam Hussein himself, grew up in the streets, practically feral. These guys don't want to TALK to anyone. They don't want to negotiate. Basically, they really just don't care." And we want to leave and abandon Iraq to these guys? I think not.
Then I went to a press conference held by the Ministry of Energy and during the Q&A, an Iraqi reporter stated that the people of Baghdad needed more electricity than just six hours worth a day. The Ministry's rep replied that so far, "40 of our workers have been killed, 300 have been kidnapped and 300 have been injured. Work has been abandoned because of the threats. In Baghdad it is very difficult. We are trying to establish power but our towers are being destroyed. We are working under very difficult conditions." Apparently the insurgents are targeting power stations and power lines in an effort to discredit the Multi-National Forces who are guarding them.
This information seems to indicate that the best rationale for keeping U.S. troops here is to aid in trying to bring stability to the country -- but I can't guarantee that statement to be true because I haven't been able to hear the insurgents' side of the story. So far I've attended five press conferences given by the Multi-National Forces. But have I attended any press conferences given by "Insurgents"? Nope. None. Zero, zip, nada. Humph. Why aren't THEY here in the press room giving conferences too? "We report. You decide." And boy do I have questions for them! Guys, you are missing a real opportunity here by not granting an interview to moi.
What kind of questions would I ask the "insurgents" aka "terrorists" aka "Al Qaeda" if I had the chance? First of all I'd ask, "Hey, guys, why aren't YOU trying to upgrade YOUR image? If you are serious about winning this 'war', you need to get a hot new name and maybe take out a few commercials on 'Deal or No Deal' or 'Jeopardy'. And stop blowing up all those markets and school children. It's bad for PR."
"Secondly," I'd ask the insurgents, "if the US troops do leave, will you actually be able to form an efficient and safe and organized government? Or are you guys the type who only understands violence, can only 'swift-boat' people and are at a complete loss when it comes to actually creating and building new stuff?" Well, if the insurgents ARE like that, then they need to give up their fixation with Iraq and come over to Washington DC where that kind of stuff is very popular. They'd fit right in.
Then my friend Ilene e-mailed me an article that said, "Disillusioned with their 'liberators,' many Iraqis believe that the withdrawal of the foreign troops the only solution to their trauma. 'The Americans must leave, they are responsible for the situation today,' said Mohamed Ali, an employee of the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad. 'If they go, the situation will become stable in one or two months.'"
And now that we've chatted about what U.S. troops think and what the insurgents are up to, I would also like to talk about what the average Iraqi is thinking. Are the mothers, shop-keepers, farmers and children of Iraq tired of watching armed combatants battle it out in the streets around them while they themselves are simply trying to get on with their lives? Do they simply wish that all these "Men with Guns" would simply go away and let them get back to selling their goods, harvesting their crops and trying to educate their children? Who knows? It's hard for me to get a handle on this from the depths of the Green Zone press room -- but I'll try.
Should American troops leave Iraq or not? Right now, this burning question totally occupies my mind.
My new bunkmate then argued that the troops DO need to stay, citing a point of view that she had just heard on Fox News. "We can't leave here now because we have too much stuff." Oh. THAT'S why Bush and them are staying here? Because their closets are too full and they can't fit all their junk in a suitcase? The Paris Hilton rationale? Yeah right.
To leave or not to leave? "I'm beginning to think," I told my reporter friend, "that SOMEBODY should stay in Iraq -- although maybe not US troops per se because they are the ones who caused this mess in the first place and the Iraqis still appear to be sort of bitter about that. Is there anyone else that can take over the peace-keeping operation until Iraq is stabilized? Maybe the UN?"
"That wouldn't work. I think that Iraqis would feel the same way about UN occupiers as they now do about the American occupation."
"But what if they used Muslim troops coming from outside the country? Would that be acceptable to Iraqis?"
"That tactic was tried during the first invasion of Lebanon and it didn't work either. Even Muslim troops were still considered to be occupiers." Sigh. What to do? Iraqis hate being occupied but they appear to be too factionalized to make their own selves secure -- although according to an article in The Nation by Juan Cole, "The key to preventing an intensified civil war is US withdrawal from the equation so as to force the parties to an accommodation. Therefore, the United States should announce its intention to withdraw its military forces from Iraq, which will bring Sunnis to the negotiating table and put pressure on Kurds and Shiites to seek a compromise with them. But a simple US departure would not be enough; the civil war must be negotiated to a settlement, on the model of the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Lebanon."
Who knows what should happen next here in Iraq? Who knows what the right thing to do really is. The situation here is truly complex. However, if our troops do decide to leave, maybe they can hire Paris Hilton to teach them how to pack!
PS: Last night in the press room, we moved some of the cots out of the way and watched a movie called "300" on DVD. Sitting in the geographical center of Iraq and watching a movie that totally glorifies violent death was a truly bizarre experience, especially since the New York Times just reported that there have been 37 reports of violent attacks in Baghdad in just the last seven days.
PPS: I'm so totally excited! I went to another press conference today wherein an Iraqi general briefed us about the Iraqi Army's new Operation Imposing Law and, during the Q&A, an Iraqi journalist asked the general how come most of the 15 journalists killed on these missions were killed in front of the Iraqi forces. The general replied that the loss of these outstanding professionals was a great loss to Iraq. Then the general added, "When we go out on our missions, we take the media with us." Oh? Really? I wanna go!
So I am now signed up to go out with the Iraqi Army on Wednesday to cordon off and search some neighborhoods. I am totally jazzed!
Plus tomorrow I get to go to Diwaniyah to see the site of a recent firefight where 39 militia members were captured. According to the press release, "We have freed the people of Diwaniyah from the murder and intimidation that has plagued the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months." Wow! That's a great press release! How come the "Insurgents" never put out press releases like that? Here's some good advice for you, insurgent guys. "Get a new PR agent!"
And I forgot to mention that EVERYONE involved here is gleefully breaking the greatest law of all: "Thou shalt not kill!"