SAN FRANCISCO -- CONSIDERING the persistent bad news from Iraq, it's hard to imagine that adding a mere 21,500 troops will bring security. But even if it does, the surge is only a small step toward stability, an interim strategy that may suppress but will not crush the insurgency.
Recognizing this, in his January speech President Bush outlined a plan to forge a lasting peace by creating jobs for Iraq's angry young men. The president pledged $1 billion in economic aid, and committed to doubling the number of "provincial development teams," which, he said, will "speed the transition to Iraqi self-reliance."
The problem is that the U.S. could better serve Iraq by handing out baby aspirin at car bombings. There are many reasons to believe that the president's plan won't work. The new money is a pittance compared with the more than $20 billion that has already been spent on reconstruction, much of which has gone to waste. The administration is also having a hard time recruiting the U.S. experts it needs to run the initiative.
But an even more difficult job will be finding skilled Iraqis willing to cooperate.
On a recent assignment in Jordan for Mother Jones magazine, I met a number of Baghdadis who had eagerly worked with the U.S. in the early years of the occupation. Moderate, educated, and English-speaking, they are precisely the people whom the administration needs. Yet, they're all afraid to go home, viewing their former collaboration with the coalition as a veritable death sentence.
For example, an articulate, middle-aged man in a tweed jacket who identifies himself as Ayad showed me photos of the laundry facilities he built across Iraq for the U.S. military. He earned a decent living as a U.S. contractor. But insurgents murdered many of his employees, and, when they put him in the crosshairs, he fled to Jordan, losing everything he had owned.
In Baghdad, the mere suspicion of working with the U.S. is enough to get you killed. Baida, a diminutive 28-year-old Christian, says her husband, Muneer, a wealthy businessman, spent his own money to rebuild a local school.
Insurgents thought he was taking U.S. aid, and gunned him down in his Mercedes. All Baida has left of her husband are snapshots of his bullet-ridden body; she and her nine-year-old daughter now bide their time in a cold room in Amman, hiding out from the immigration police.
Another refugee, Abather Abdul Hussein, worked on electrification projects under contract with the U.S. Army. He was one of the few people brave enough to let me use their names in connection with employment by the Americans, although his openness reflects a desperate plea for help rather than a sense of security. After months dodging bullets, he was kidnapped and tortured by insurgents in June 2006. The ordeal left him badly wounded, and he now needs medical care and a safe home for his young family.
In Vietnam and other wars, the United States sheltered its local partners when they needed it. But U.S. assistance for the exiled Iraqis is almost non-existent. In 2006, only 202 Iraqis were allowed to resettle in the United States. This year, the number has been increased to 7,000, a meager figure considering there are nearly a million Iraqi refugees in Jordan alone.
Resettlement is not an ideal solution as it will permanently drain Iraq of the technocrats. But any such considerations about the future hardly matter to these refugees, who are barred from working or from sending their children to school, and face a constant threat of deportation.
Friendship and loyalty are extremely important in Arab culture. The Iraqis I met feel betrayed by the United States. They resent the Bush administration for botching the reconstruction, for abandoning them to insurgents, and for leaving them to fend for themselves now that they're refugees. They regret having worked for the U.S. and won't even consider taking that risk again.
"The U.S. is the main source of the problems in Iraq," says Abather, who is desperate to relocate to the United States, Australia, or anywhere that's safe. "In the future," he fears, "Iraq will be erased from the map."
David Case is a contributing writer to Mother Jones, which is running a longer version of this article in its current issue.
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