social history. remembering operation “iraqi liberation”. riverbend.


paint­ing by layla al attar can be found at the iraq fine art website

Thurs­day, August 28, 2003

The Promise and the Threat

The Myth: Iraqis, prior to occu­pa­tion, lived in lit­tle beige tents set up on the sides of lit­tle dirt roads all over Bagh­dad. The men and boys would ride to school on their camels, don­keys and goats. These schools were larger ver­sions of the home units and for every 100 stu­dents, there was one turban-​wearing teacher who taught the boys rudi­men­tary math (to count the flock) and read­ing. Girls and women sat at home, in black burkas, mak­ing bread and tak­ing care of 1012 children.

The Truth: Iraqis lived in houses with run­ning water and elec­tric­ity. Thou­sands of them own com­put­ers. Mil­lions own VCRs and VCDs. Iraq has sophis­ti­cated bridges, recre­ational cen­ters, clubs, restau­rants, shops, uni­ver­si­ties, schools, etc. Iraqis love fast cars (espe­cially Ger­man cars) and the Tigris is full of lit­tle motor boats that are used for every­thing from fish­ing to water-​skiing.

I guess what I’m try­ing to say is that most peo­ple choose to ignore the lit­tle pre­fix ‘re’ in the words ‘rebuild’ and ‘recon­struct’. For your infor­ma­tion, ‘re’ is of Latin ori­gin and gen­er­ally means ‘again’ or ‘anew’.

In other words– there was some­thing there in the first place. We have hun­dreds of bridges. We have one of the most sophis­ti­cated net­work of high­ways in the region: you can get from Bus­rah, in the south, to Mosul, in the north, with­out once hav­ing to travel upon those lit­tle, dusty, dirt roads they show you on Fox News. We had a com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem so advanced, it took the Coali­tion of the Will­ing 3 rounds of bomb­ing, on 3 sep­a­rate nights, to dam­age the Ma’moun Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tower and silence our telephones.

Yes­ter­day, I read how it was going to take up to $90 bil­lion to rebuild Iraq. Bre­mer was shoot­ing out num­bers about how much it was going to cost to replace build­ings and bridges and elec­tric­ity, etc.

Lis­ten to this lit­tle anec­dote. One of my cousins works in a promi­nent engi­neer­ing com­pany in Bagh­dad– we’ll call the com­pany H. This com­pany is well-​known for design­ing and build­ing bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a struc­tural engi­neer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talk­ing about pil­lars and trusses and steel struc­tures to any­one who’ll listen.

As May was draw­ing to a close, his man­ager told him that some­one from the CPA wanted the com­pany to esti­mate the build­ing costs of replac­ing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Bagh­dad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the dam­age, decided it wasn’t too exten­sive, but it would be costly. They did the nec­es­sary tests and analy­ses (mum­blings about soil com­po­si­tion and water depth, expan­sion joints and gird­ers) and came up with a num­ber they ten­ta­tively put for­ward– $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw mate­ri­als (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, con­trac­tors, travel expenses, etc.

Let’s pre­tend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pre­tend he hasn’t been work­ing with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pre­tend he didn’t work on replac­ing at least 20 of the 133 bridges dam­aged dur­ing the first Gulf War. Let’s pre­tend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuild­ing this bridge is four times the num­ber they esti­mated– let’s pre­tend it will actu­ally cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.

A week later, the New Diyala Bridge con­tract was given to an Amer­i­can com­pany. This par­tic­u­lar com­pany esti­mated the cost of rebuild­ing the bridge would be around– brace your­selves– $50,000,000 !!

Some­thing you should know about Iraq: we have over 130,000 engi­neers. More than half of these engi­neers are struc­tural engi­neers and archi­tects. Thou­sands of them were trained out­side of Iraq in Ger­many, Japan, Amer­ica, Britain and other coun­tries. Thou­sands of oth­ers worked with some of the for­eign com­pa­nies that built var­i­ous bridges, build­ings and high­ways in Iraq. The major­ity of them are more than pro­fi­cient– some of them are bril­liant.
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