Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Democracy Marches On

Here's the tale of a war correspondent who almost led the Iraqi ex-army after the fall of Saddam.

Some clips:

Despite the euphoria in the White House over Iraq's liberation, on the ground I kept hearing this refrain: "It was better under Saddam." Given my opinion of the dictator, that was shocking to hear -- but I had lessons to learn about Arab pride and Iraqi culture. "Many young people I know cried when his statue fell," a student in her mid-20s told me as we talked by candlelight inside her apartment. (She was afraid to venture outside for fear of rape.) "He was Baba Saddam -- Father Saddam -- and he was all we ever knew."


"Should we march, Mr. Richard?" Azzawi asked me. Here was a dilemma I'd never faced before and certainly never would again. I'd earned a measure of respect from the men, if only because I was polite enough to hear and write down their grievances. (And bear in mind, they had no idea what a free press was -- many probably thought I was taking their names for the rumored jobs list.)

Certainly I couldn't give orders, not to this ex-enemy army or any other. But I could provide a bit of basic P.R. advice. "Do you have protest signs?" I asked Azzawi. "Do you have a petition? You need a plan. If you just show up, the Americans will have no idea what you want. If you march unannounced, you might end up getting shot."


With a tinge of anger in his voice,
[former U.S. Administrator in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Jay] Garner went on: "There was a plan to bring back the Iraqi army. I briefed Condi [Rice] on it. I briefed the president. I briefed [Paul] Wolfowitz. Everyone agreed on it. We had budgeted to pay the Iraqi army; Carl Strock had rounded up the Iraqi army to pay them. We had also lined up training for the regular Iraqi army." A Virginia-based defense contractor that had retrained the Croatian army after the Bosnian war was all set to do a similar job in Iraq.

What happened? Even now, Garner doesn't seem entirely sure, or won't say. He says he was never told why he fell from favor. "A lot of stuff in that Pentagon operation is clandestine," he said, referring to the machinations of the civilian leadership that prosecuted the war. "And the vice president's office is a shadowy organization."

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