A recent encounter left a strong impression on me. It was an acquaintance of mine, a structural engineer like me. We met occasionally for some professional business in one of the Gulf Countries. One day I noticed that he was rather depressed and seemed quite angry. I asked him what the matter was. He told me that he had an argument with some non-Iraqi Arabs about the Iraqi situation and they all set on him like a pack of dogs chiding him that Iraq was an occupied country and all that kind of spiteful talk about the Iraqis that we have become accustomed to from our Arab “brothers”. Well, this guy was not the type who can take things coolly, and he gave them back what they deserve. We have all been in this situation and had to suffer the stupidity and prejudice of outsiders. One sentence that he uttered struck me though. First of all he said that they all had parts of their lands occupied, like the Golan in Syria, and then he said something in Iraqi slang that is difficult to translate. Roughly it may be translated like this: “how happy would they be, had their occupation been like the American occupation”. And then with emotion, he uttered a kind of bitter remark that remains reverberating in my mind – “if the Iraqi people have any friends it’s only America and nobody else”. For anyone outside Iraq, getting his information from the media, this may sound an incredible sentiment, but for many Iraqis it is perfectly understandable. Well, the Americans are not perfect, and they have committed tons of mistakes in Iraq. Some of the soldiers misbehaved and even committed crimes; there was Abu Graib and all that. Yet, yet, let’s face it, what’s a friend? It is someone who is pleased to hear you are doing well, and doesn’t like bad news about you; in short someone who cares about you. And let me ask just this one question – which people in this whole wide world likes to hear good news about Iraq and is dismayed when things go wrong? Need I answer this question? Do we forget that America has rid us of one the most brutal regimes in history? And in spite of all our detractors and envious hypocritical critics, a genuine democracy is coming into being, corruption or no corruption, squabbling between various factions, explosions and political assassinations etc. notwithstanding. At least the parliament is not the sham rubberstamp institution appointed by ruling dictatorships that abound all around us. The intensity and bitterness of the frequent political crises and disputes attest to the genuine nature of the pluralism that has come to characterise the political scene. This is something that is a complete novelty in this region of absolute dictatorships, medieval monarchies and sheikdoms.
And did they not say that America only came for the oil? The auctions for developing the oil fields have recently been held in Baghdad. Some amazing facts became public about the size of the oil reserves in Iraq. The international oil companies submitted their bids in a public televised show and in complete transparency. What was the share of American companies? – Not much as you can easily verify. So that gives the lie to that particular slander. However, even I who knew something about the oil reserves in Iraq was astounded to learn that only the contracts that have been awarded would raise oil production from about 2 m barrels at the present to about 12 millions in only six years if all went well. The contracts themselves were something unprecedented. They were service contracts that ranged from $1.5 to about $2.5 per barrel for the companies and almost half of that taxed. That was incredible, compare with the ancient product sharing contract of the old Iraq Petroleum company that gave the Iraqi side 50% of the production and much less than that initially. How could the companies accept such a low price for their services? It is because these were proven wells ready for production, all they have to do is to erect their drilling rigs and pump out the oil; and because also here was a completely independent and free government that feared no pressures from anyone. Beside these oil fields, there are others that the companies declined to bid for, for security reasons, not to mention some fifty locations that have not yet been explored but that are sure to be promising. In short it appears that after almost one century of production the oil reserves of Iraq have been barely touched. In fact the whole surface area of Iraq is floating on a lake of underground oil. The defunct Saddam once said that “the last barrel of oil produced in this world is going to be Iraqi”; in this he was not wrong. Of course this, too, inflames further the envy, consternation and greed of our kind neighbours. This time, though, I hope “the dirty dogs will get no dinner here”, in the words of an old British judge.
Long ago I painted a scenario that I imagined if there was a precipitate American withdrawal and abandonment. Despite all the gains and progress that have been achieved, nothing has changed fundamentally. Like I said then, an allegory can best describe the situation. As long as the king of the jungle, i.e. the lion is there, the vultures, hyenas, and other predators keep a safe distance and observe intently from the surrounds. They will do as much mischief as they can if the lion looses attention of this spot or that. But as long as El Sid is in the battle, and as long as king Solomon is standing and perceived to be alive, no afreet or Genie dare cross the limit.
In January of this year 2010, the army day was celebrated by a military parade for the first time since 2003. It wasn’t too bad. There was some respectable armour, and the soldiers marched in good order and with pride. But I sighed with pity and sadness, when few single engine training aircraft and some helicopters flew overhead as representing the new air force. I remembered the 3000 Russian fighters, the ground to ground missiles, the thousands of tanks, and the countless other military hardware that Saddam had. I remembered the legions of presidential guards, Fedayeen Saddam, the numerous repressive organisations and party members etc, etc. True all that was of little use in the face of superior western technology, and the antipathy of the majority of the Iraqi people and even some of his own people; nevertheless it was a formidable arsenal in the region. I thought that this new army, though becoming more effective in dealing with terrorism inside Iraq, has no chance in any encounter with any regional power. Iraq is cursed by some very bad neighbours indeed. Absolutely every neighbour has some bone to pick and a special agenda and design against Iraq. I need not elaborate; it will be too much and too painful to talk about. Besides, monsters lurk within the borders of Iraq itself, and the danger of sectarian conflict and strife is hiding just below the surface. If you follow the political scene, you will clearly see that in every crisis, American involvement has been instrumental in resolving the most complicated of situations; the question of the election law is only one of the latest examples. American involvement and presence has become the cement that is keeping together the nascent democracy with its conflicting currents and precarious equilibrium. I don’t deny that Al-Maliki government has been the most effective so far, and I shall probably vote for him if I had the chance to vote; nevertheless I dislike his insistence on American complete withdrawal, although that seems to please many in the U.S. itself. This is pure political hypocrisy, and is shared by all participants in the present political process. But they are not all stupid, and all know the truth. Those who really would like to see the Americans out of the picture are only the ones who want to pounce on the new order and liquidate it completely, for their own selfish aims. The future of Iraq can only be safeguarded by a solid and real strategic pact with the United States. This is not only in the interests of Iraq but also of the American people, and very much so. Not only the present political order, but the very existence of Iraq as country will be doubtful without American protection, not even a Saddamist like dictatorship can survive again. The country will be pounced upon from without and within and torn to pieces before even the last American soldier has left. Take the word of this humble Alaa the Mesopotamian for it. The predators lying in waiting know that once America withdraws it cannot come back and they are trembling in expectation of that day. McCain knew this, President Bush knew this. And what a calamity for the U.S. it will be. Not Afghanistan, not Pakistan, not the Yemen nor any other region can be as disastrous as Iraq if it is dismembered and become a failed state where all manner of terrorist beast is allowed to roam freely. The oil lake underneath and the all the riches and resources of the region will be out of control and can destabilise the whole international, already very precarious, economic and social system. All the might of the U.S. and all the western powers will not then be able to control the situation.
I am not against President Obama. Indeed his election was a kind of moral victory for the American people. He is a charming man no doubt, and above all the first “black” president. Some people questioned his Nobel Prize. They didn’t see that the prize was not for any particular achievement for peace; it was clearly for his achievement of a black man becoming president – no mean achievement indeed in a country where barely fifty years ago blacks couldn’t enter some restaurants and could not go to white colleges, and where apartheid like discrimination was common in many places. His election impressed the whole world, precisely for this reason. It marked a turning point for the American people as a whole and a moral lesson to all nations. Yet the euphoria having subsided, the practical problems of the world impose themselves. Quite frankly, from our own selfish Iraqi point of view the republicans were preferable. They understood the situation and realised the dangers better. Be that as it may, I pray that the Obama administration does not commit the fatal mistake of abandoning the Iraqi front. I am convinced that any such action will bring the downfall not only of Iraq as a country but of the United States as a world power. The long-term consequences can be devastating for the American people themselves. Only people completely devoid of any imagination can fail to see that. Already other powers are rising and can’t wait to take over the role of predominance in the world. The entire present political and economic structure of the U.S. depends on its international status. Take that away and the continent will dwindle into poverty, misery and incalculable social consequences. No, the death of El Sid must not be announced, and King Solomon must remain erect even if in make belief.