The Future Will Be Peaceful, Inshallah

Rory Stewart looks at What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building by Noah Feldman, Blinded by the Sunlight: Surviving Abu Ghraib and Saddam’s Iraq by Matthew McAllester, The Fall of Baghdad by Jon Lee Anderson, and The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq by Christian Parenti, in the London Review of Books:

Will the election make all the difference? For a year after the invasion the policy was to reduce the number of police in Maysan and make them more ‘citizen-friendly’. In the last six months the police force has tripled in size and is now heavily armed. People in Maysan seem to enjoy voting. But the province on election day looks a little like a police state. There are armed men at checkpoints every few kilometres up the highway; policemen with vehicle-mounted machine-guns are checking IDs on almost every street corner; no civilian vehicles are allowed to move on the streets. This may be part of the reason ‘security has improved.’ Yet despite the checkpoints, which are in place every day, there are still daily car-jackings and roadside bombs, and towards the Iranian border there’s drug smuggling, looting, and kidnapping of children. The improvement is relative. As the sheikh found when he was shot on the steps of his mosque.

No foreigner really knows what is going on in Iraq. There are diplomats – both British and American – who speak good Arabic and have studied Iraqi history; there are intelligence officers who know tribal genealogies; and there are many soldiers who get out on the ground, build good relationships with rural leaders, deliver services and win respect. The quality of journalists in Iraq has been high: Elizabeth Rubin for the New York Times Magazine and the New Republic, George Packer for the New Yorker, Rory McCarthy for the Guardian and James Astill for the Economist have produced great pieces. But even the most energetic analysts cannot move freely. Astill’s longest conversation with an Iraqi in Fallujah was with a man urinating against a wall with a suitcase on his head, and thus unable to move for twenty seconds.

I certainly don’t know what is going on in Iraq.

More here.