Friday, August 21, 2009

Power Hour

By: Ali Rawaf

A few days ago, I was one of the students complaining when my Spanish professor turned off the air-conditioning unit in the classroom so we can hear her better, “It is too hot,” I said.

“Go live in a third world country and you will know what it’s like to be without air-conditioning at all,” she retorted. Her response reminded me of home. Don’t get me wrong, we do have air-conditioning units in Iraq; they just don’t work most of the time.

Baghdad before 2003

After the assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein’s son in Baghdad in 1996, many believe that Saddam punished Iraqis by a couple of hours of power shortage a day. Gradually, the electric power hours of shortage were lessened. I can remember up to two years before the 2003 invasion, we experience very little power shortages in Baghdad.

As a result of American bombing to the power generating units in Iraq and the theft of the wires, cables, and other kind of electric equipment, we didn’t have electric power for a few days after April 9th, 2003. When the service came back, we enjoyed for only two hours and it was gone for a few days and ever since, that has been one of themes of Iraqis’ daily life. It is a big mess. I really want to go into details because it explains a little of our daily frustrations, things that the most of the world don’t have to deal with. And a lot of Iraqis too didn’t have to deal with this issue as much prior to March of 2003.

We have named the different sort of electric power we get in Iraq. We have the “government electric power,” “the street generator,” and “the home generator.” The first provides us with two to four hours of electric power at random timings of the day. The second provides us with power for about eight to twelve hours a day. Iraqis have to pay those who own those big street generators. The owners are merciless; they charge ridiculous amounts of money. They turn their generators on and off as they please. Also, they receive government funding and government-provided diesel. The owners of these generators (some were stolen from government storage or government office buildings) have crowded the neighborhoods with webs of wires and cables. It would take a very long time to get rid of those wires. Not only are the ugly and chaotic looking, they also have caused many fires and other damage to the streets, light posts, and the electric regulating units on the streets.

The government sometimes gives only one hour of power a day so that is why Iraqis rely on the owner of the “street generator.”

One of the wire webs caused by the street generators in a Baghdad neighborhood

Picture was taken from Energy Tribune

Dec. 1, 2008

The home generator is another story. It is one of the appliances that an Iraqi house must have. They run on gasoline. Even though, we have a big oil wealth in Iraq, Iraqi still have to suffer waiting in long queues in the middle of the summer to get some gasoline to run those generators. The generators are loud, disturbing, and cannot cover the basic electric need for an Iraqi home.

Home Generators

Picture was taken from Los Angeles Times

March 2, 2008

The government keeps announcing “buying electricity” from Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey, but none of that has shown any tangible results. The government also promises people of maintenance being done on the old (bombed and stolen) electric units.

We are an oil-exporting country and we suffer from power shortage and lack of gasoline. Yesterday, Fatima Kamal from the Iraqi newspaper, Azzaman titled her article, “Fuel consumption soars as power supplies dwindle in Iraq.” In it, she quotes an official in the Ministry of Oil, “Iraq would need to import more fuel to meet demand.” It is due to the “high increase in fuel consumption was mainly due to the erratic power supplies with blackouts reaching 20 hours a day,” said the official who requested anonymity.

Iraq’s fuel consumption has gone up 17 million liters a month. That is 4 million more liters than what was reported in recent months. The Iraqi government estimates about $5 billion needed to improve the electric supplies according to Azzaman. That’s if the Oil Ministry fulfills their promise that “its refineries should meet local fuel consumption within a year.”

Iraqi child studying under the "Lala" light. Lala is a little light lamp that runs on fire fuel.

Picture was take from FB group Iraqi Children

Friday, August 7, 2009

We Need Liberal Democracy, Not Just Democracy

By: Ali Rawaf
In the last century, Democracy has been adopted by many countries throughout the world. In his book, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late 20th Century, Samuel Hunnington, a political scientist identifies a government to be democratic "to the extend that [their] most powerful collective decision-makers are selected through fair, honest and periodic elections in which candidates compete for votes and in which all the adult population is eligible to vote." Hunnington says that democracies like such have come in "waves."
According to a research at the Hoover Institution, by 1990, 117 countries met Hunnington's definition of democracy." Political scientists today, have been using the term "Liberal Democracy" which under its definition, many of the 177 countries that are considered democratic under Hunnington's definition are not.
In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq claiming that one its main taks is to bring democracy to the country. Iraq is a democratic country now. By democratic, I mean that we have "elected" our last two governments, I certainly don't mean that we have a liberal democracy.

The Iraqi elections are different than those held in other liberally democratic countries. After the 2003 invasion, many of Saddam's opposition parties returned to Iraq . They Iraqi opposition formed about 180 parties. In the last election, in order to make the ballot shorter and with less names of political parties and candidates, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq used "electoral lists." Many parties who have some common goals and backgrounds would join in one list and under the later, they would run for election. To be clear, when Iraqis voted, they didn't vote for different candidates, they voted for the lists. The winning lists battled for a couple of days to figure out how they would distribute the parliamentary seats and who gets assigned to them. A few days later, the would announce the name of the person they chose to be the prime minister of the country. It wasn't the Iraqis choice to elect their prime minister, they just voted for the list of parties and those parties picked him out.

Liberal democracy is also free from religious influence on the elections and decision making process. Al-Dawa party, the party that won the last election and chose Nourli Al-Mailiki as their leader and Iraq's Prime Minister, ran the election using their religiuos ties. The party made it clear that its political program was approved by the religiuos leaders in the country and by Ali Al-Sistani, the grand ayatolla in Iraq. Many of the Iraqis voted for the Dawa party not because they read their political program nor because the candidates were highly competent. They simply voted because that is what Ali Al-Sistany "approved of" as many of them said. Before making their decisions, many politicians seek the approval of religius leaders which in a country as today's Iraq, it means the approval of the population. Maliki regularily visits Ayatolla Sistani, he is hovered by cameras on his way in to the Ayatolla's house since the Ayatolla doesn't like to be filmed or photographed. Then, Maliki would leave the house with a big smile claiming the Ayatolla's approval. That is how Maliki usually passes a contoversial legislation or "resolves" a vastly debated issue. Saddam Hussein him self hadn't used such techniques to manouver his way through the politicl spectrum.

Having an unpoliticized army is one of the main characteristics of a liberal democracy. During the first day of training the new Iraqi army, the Iraqi TV showed footage of the soldiers marching while calling, "Ya Ali, Ya Ali," a phrase used by Shiite Muslims to praise a major religious and historic figure. This intimidates the rest of the Iraqi population, one that consists of many different sects and religions. Many Sunnis, another sect of Islam, don't like the army because the see it as a representation of the Shiite dominance and as tool that the Shiites use to revenge against the because what Saddam Hussein, a Sunni has done to them and the way he persecuted them. In January of this year, Iraq held its local elections, where people vote for their city council, governors, and other public offices. A few days before the elections, Maliki set out the Iraqi army to march down the streets of Baghdad yelling out Shiite political slogans and carrying pictures of Ayatolla Al-Sistani, Nouri Al-Maliki, and other Shiite political leaders who are associated with the latter. Malki's party scored a landslide victory in the country. Many attributed the victory to the intimidation the army show caused.

Some American politicians would like to claim that the invasion of Iraq has brough us democracy. But many countries around the world have democracies, but many of them are not liberal democracy. Venezuela, for example, is considered a democratic country. Hugo Chavez, an army colonel, who won the election with 56 percent majority but eversince, the country hs been going down hill as Chavez became the sole arbitrator. Iraq has a similar case, where elecions take place and people vote but it is also where, the army and religion is used to arbitrate political agenda. What Iraq has today is a democracy but it doesn't have a liberal democracy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Patriotic Desire

By Guest Writer: Mike Atencio

I was born and raised in a decent sized town in mid-west Colorado, known simply as Colorado Springs. My town has lots of trees, lakes, and mountains, nothing of the desert scene. So when I joined the military and was told I would be going to Iraq to fight a war that I was unsure was necessary, it conflicted and scared me. I know nothing of that land or really of those people’s culture. What I did know is that I felt we had no business in that country to fight a war that had no real patriotic value to most. That going over there to help “govern” or liberate, heck or supposedly disarm the mass weapons of destruction that Iraq had stored up in warehouses, or underground caves seemed ludicrous to me, and a large portion of the country.

Being a disciplined Marine that I was, I kept my thoughts and feelings quite, packed up all my gear and prepared myself to invade this country full of terrorists, and brutish individuals that had not one decent bone in their bodies, or so I was told to think that. Because this “fight” was for my country, giving up my youth was to honor what had been done to our country on September 11, 2001. And to show the world that no one can dare come to our lands and kill our people, destroy one of our most loved cities, and still get away with it. So buying into the hype and propaganda I pumped myself up and was ready for action. You see, if I did not get my heart into it as much as I could that country would have destroyed me mentally and I knew that; even having to lie to the man in the mirror, to convince him this war had to happen.

Once we landed and got settled, this foreign land was exactly what we had been told it was going to be like, very hot very barren, no beautiful mountains, no crystal clear lakes, no fields of aspen trees, basically nothing like good old home that I took for granted. This was a place of death and terror, that needed us to liberate them, or so I had to tell myself endlessly. It got to the point where all I thought about was trying to convince myself that we had a true purpose being there, and to tell you the truth at first it was not too hard to believe that. I would look around and witness desolate cities, kids in rages, wild packs of dogs roaming the lands, desert creatures that still haunt my dreams. So yes being there to fight was the right thing to do, I bit into that lie for a little while anyways.

Now when someone’s heart knows that what is being done is not right, that life giving muscle will make believing things that are not true harder and harder. As it did to me, when I actually got to meet the people and get in close contact with them as if they were like old friends. They were not the brutish terrorists that I saw in hate videos, they are very curious compassionate people that have not just one decent bone in their bodies but many. They love to laugh and play soccer, yet have this shyness of young man afraid to ask the pretty girl to dance. My gear had to be something of wonder to them, it was for sure not the typical dress that they normally wore to battle the suns’ relentless assault. And not as you can imagine, we did not find these supposed “weapons of mass destruction”, what we did find were confused people torn by religious self-being, and a dictator that had a delusional image of world dominance.

What I came to learn was our Commander-in-Chief (also known as our President) had a nice huge claim in the black gold known as oil, which that country is full of, and that his father one of our former Presidents had unfinished business with the Iraqi dictator. That my feelings of discontent where correct. We had no business in that country. Yes it was amazing to liberate them from their leader, but I know in my heart that was not the main purpose of us inhabiting the lands they call home.

When you know something is not right in your heart, and you have looked at it from all aspects; it usually means that there is a good chance that what you are feeling is correct. As much as I loved seeing the peoples’ faces when that dictator was arrested, it did not make it ok in my mind that we are there or still are. The retribution of America being attacked was not being fulfilled, the individuals that attacked us did not reside in that land, nor did the people from Iraq have anything to do with the killing of hundreds of Americans, on that September morning.
As a warrior of this nation, and as a true patriot, my feelings of us invading a land that had no real threat to our country will never sit well in my stomach and soul. Defending America’s lands will be something that I believe in until the day I die, but it must be for that reason, not for financial gains, or to spread American influence around the globe, but to protect what is ours. I am ending with this thought, we are not the sheriff of the world, and basing our choices on gossip or desires is not what made this country so great. That is what will cripple us in the eyes of the world and worse in the eyes of our own people. And to the Iraqi people, I express my deepest apologizes for entering their homes and trying to change their culture. I can only hope that I represented America in a way that our Founding Fathers, and the generations to come can be proud of.

Dear Readers,
Mike is a classmate of mine. He was a marine who had two tours in Iraq. We have recently briefly talked about his experience in my country and mine in his. It is our responsibilities, mine and Mike's, to tell our people about the people of each others' countries and people and bring a clearer picture of the understanding that we are all people, we all value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as simply put in the U.S constitution, and we all yearn for peace. That peace will come when our people have better understanding of each other and focus on our similarities rather than our differences.

Wait for the follow-up interview with Mike Atencio.

Ali Rawaf