Sunday, March 20, 2011

Iraq: Guns vs. Butter, Butter Wins

By Ali Rawaf

The American victory against Saddam Hussein's Army came mostly by air force attacks. The US outmatched Iraq's air force capabilities and was able to swipe of the Iraqi army in just a couple of weeks. The air force has also been one of Gaddafi’s main tools for devastating the rebel forces and gaining momentum once again.

Iraq’s air force stands weaker today than it’s ever had. The current aircraft capabilities don’t go farther than transportation purposes. So, if Iran was to attack us today with its overwhelming air force, it can demolish whatever Iraqi military capability in no time (if the US isn’t around anymore).

Two years ago, Iraq’s defense ministry bid for a number of fighter jets from the United States and won an unprecedented support for its bid from the latter. Iraq was able to order more than 90 F-16’s. In February, 18 of them were ready for purchase.

In February, however, Iraqis went on the streets and protested poor services, one of which was the national food program, which provides millions of Iraqis with basic food supplies such as flour, rice, and sugar. Iraq hasn’t been able to pay for these massive food subsidies partially due to the massive salaries Iraqi officials have granted themselves.

To appease the crowds, the Iraqi government diverted funds that were allocated for the purchase of the F-16’s to buy more flour, sugar, and rice. However, the pilots who traveled to the US to get training on flying the jets will continue their program. 

I wouldn’t say this is the smartest move and makes me feel quite ambivalent.

On one hand, it is a good sign. If Saddam Hussein was still in power, he wouldn’t have given a second thought to purchasing the fighter jets. For him, advancing the military would have been more important than feeding the hungry crowds. On the other hand, this kind of move leaves more space for other countries to practice regional dominance, something that isn’t in Iraq’s best interest. I think the Iraqi government could have diverted money from other programs to purchase the F-16’s, all of which will be pending until Iraq has the money to purchase them.

Note: Guns vs Butter is a symbol for the economic policy of a government insofar as spending is allocated for either military or social purposes

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Facing Protests, Iraq's Democracy Looks More Authoritarian

By: Ali Rawaf
Iraqi Forces surrounding Tahrir Square, where Iraqis protested poor services and high unemployment

Iraq, a democracy where elections were almost free and fair, didn’t treat its protestors any better than the rest of the authoritarian regimes in the region. The government took quick and violent actions to prevent Iraq’s protests from gaining momentum.

Since the inception of the protests, Maliki branded the activists who organized the protests as Baathists and member of al-Qaeda who were looking for opportunities to bring down the Iraqi government, despite repeated declarations that the protests were aimed at improving basic services and unemployment, not at removing the current government. This move, previously employed against political opponents, discouraged many people from voicing their discontent in the protests.  Another fear-mongering announcement from Maliki’s office was humorous. In it, Maliki predicted that terrorists dressed in police uniforms will beat the protestors so people should be cautious.

On the eve of the protest, a curfew was imposed by the Prime Minister’s office (The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces) until further notice. On the day of the protests, many of Iraq’s Sunni provinces had imposed curfews. Despite the curfew, people marched down the streets and expressed their anger with the current status of services and employment.

Freedom of the press, a constitutional right, was violated as well. Iraqi and foreign TV networks weren’t allowed to cover the protests live, therefore, people wouldn’t be encouraged to come join the protests after watching them on TV.

Journalists who were on the grounds of the protests were beaten, humiliated, and imprisoned by the Iraqi Army and police forces. Journalists, who were freed later, said they had seen leaders of civil society groups, actors, activists, and local civilians imprisoned and beaten by the Iraqi forces.

The protestors themselves were hosed with water cannons, beaten, and imprisoned.

The central government and Parliament found a way of diverting the blame onto local governments instead of taking responsibility for the shortcomings in their performance for the past years. Governors of two provinces had resigned and a few other governors are expected to do the same soon.  

To appease the protestors, Maliki and the parliament, cut their salaries by 20%, though originally intended to cut 50%. They also promised to give more food aid for the poor, place a halt on a newly approved import tax, and to improve basic services within a 100 days. Critics are skeptical  that such promises will be fulfilled.

If I could draw one main theme of the protests, it would be regret. Iraqis risked their lives on March 7th 2010 to vote for a new government. A year later, that government hasn’t been formed completely, with key ministries such as the Interior and Defense still vacant. The very little faith Iraqis had that the past election cycle was going to bring about change, has been lost. The picture shows an Iraqi biting his index finger, a gesture of regret in Iraqi culture. His finger is still painted purple with voting ink.