- Hardcover: 417 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Number 709 of 1,450 edition (January 1, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743273893
- ISBN-13: 978-0743273893
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 62 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #502,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope Hardcover – January 9, 2006
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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Pulled from the private sector for the unique job of...governing a country we just invaded and that he knew nothing about, Bremer spent a year or so carefully writing mails, putting together presentations, and travelling around with big flak jackets as he carefully managed to wreck a country through a number of 'administrative' actions that probably made a lot of sense in his office. Included is the disbandment of the Iraqi army, which drove Al Qaeda recruiting to record highs and made the multi-gazillion dollar US investment in...an Iraqi army a future milestone to mark in PowerPoint. He tried to do the right thing, but darn it, Iraq was a tough company. Eventually, his software licenses expired and he had to pack it in and head home.
I always knew PowerPoint was dangerous, but to read of it handled with such awesome power that it managed to literally tear apart a country in around a year, I can only imagine what he is doing in whatever job he now has in the private sector.
Bremer reluctantly agreed to leave a peaceful existence in Vermont and answer the call to work eighteen hour days, sometimes seven day weeks, in 120 degree heat, without air conditioning, and to risk his life almost every day by traveling outside the green zone -- working, like it or not, on OUR behalf.
We all wondered at times what the heck was taking so long. This book explains the back channel work that was required to include the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani (Iraq's leading Shiite Cleric) in the process. He was approving every step including specific wording in the constitution, but communication had to be accomplished through secret intermediaries. Bremer had to choose between speed and legitimacy. He opted for legitimacy, to his own personal detriment. We should thank him, not criticize.
Sistani, by the way, is a strong believer in the combination of democracy and Islam - to the point that he wanted elections to happen before it was practical from a logistic and security standpoint. One of the delicate balances was that the Coalition Provisional Authority could not simply concede to Sistani's every wish because it would then appear that the Shiites were being favored over the Sunnis. It is clear that opponents of democracy are truly a small minority in Iraq.done with the Ayatollah Sistani.
The most frequent criticism we hear is that Bremer should not have disbanded the Iraqi army because by doing so he let lots of bad, angry guys with guns and no income become insurgents. He explains here that (a) the Iraqi army disbanded itself before Bremer arrived on the scene. In many cases they literally burned down their barracks and would not have identified themselves as former Saddam loyalists for fear of reprisal, (b) even if it hadn't disbanded itself, it was run by Sunni's and therefore it could not be allowed to continue, for the sake of legitimacy -- among Shiites -- of whatever new force was to be assembled, and (c) as Bremer traveled around Iraq, those who had heard about the criticism of his decision to disband Saddam's army almost unanimously volunteered that it was the best decision he made. Who do you think is more credible on this issue -- the US press, you, or the Iraqis who lived through it? You will also learn that the vast majority of Iraqi people desired Democracy (seventy percent of them voted while they believed they were risking their lives to do so) and that there were Iraqi citizens, including senior Muslim clerics, working back channels to try bring about and support democracy. You will probably gain an improved understanding of the difficulty of achieving Democracy when those who would stand up for it risk being forced to watch the rape of their own family members -- many or most of the police stations had rape rooms. Would our founders have won our freedom and created this republic if such conditions had existed in America 250 years ago?
My favorite anecdote (page 51) is of...
...a man in a muddy plaid shirt waved me down. He led us to five stacks of bones, laid neatly on sheets.
"Mother," he said in broken English, pointing at one skull, tears streaming down his dirty cheeks. "Sister.... Sister.... Daughter... son." His fists gripped an invisible machine gun. "Army kill."
We met with the district mokhtar or headman, who showed us recently taken photographs documenting the excavation of the Al-Hillah graves. "Please, Ambassador," he said. "Take this evidence to Jacques Chirac. It was the French who kept butcher Saddam in power."
"Instead..." I suggested, "Why don't you and the mayor of Al-Hillah invite him to come see these graves for himself?"
Later that day, in the town of Al-Hillah, I got a glimpse of the new Iraq when I met Sheik Farqat al-Qizwini. The Sheik was an imposing figure, who stood six feet, three inches. But he seemed even taller because of his thick black turban, signifying that he was not only an imam, a Muslim cleric, but also a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, which entitled him to the honorific "Sayyid." After the fall of Saddam, Sheik Qizwini "liberated" a mosque in Al-Hillah that Saddam had ordered built to glorify himself. Over a warm Pepsi in Qizwini's office, he spoke expansively of his dream for that mosque.
"Ambassador," he said, gesturing dramatically, "I intend to create a university here. I will have Muslim, Christian, and Jewish students and teachers at this university to demonstrate that the New Iraq belongs to all Iraqis."
The sheik described his gratitude to America for freeing Iraq from Saddam's tyranny. "I deeply admire democracy." He leaned forward , eyes warm with excitement. "Iraq should become America's fifty-third state," the sheik bellowed.
His sentiment was clear, even if has math was a bit fuzzy.
Then at the end of the book (Page 390),
I had one more farewell to make in the short time remaining. I needed to go back to Al-Hillah [to visit with Sheik Farqat al-Qizwini.]
"...first the sheik showed me through a photo exhibit of the mass graves in the former mosque's hall. It was to remind everyone, he said, of the "Old Iraq." The photos were powerful--women digging frantically in the dirt, one holding pictures of her three sons killed by Saddam and whose bodies she could not find. Dozens of skulls had been cut open by Saddam's ghouls to see the effects of chemicals used on the victims.
Sheik Qizwini had also transferred seventy-five unidentified bodies from the gravesite and buried them in neat rows in front of a monument with a plaque, which had inscriptions from the Torah, the Koran, and the Bible.
Standing in bright sun alongside these "tombs of the unknown" were a dozen living heroes, men and women who had resisted Saddam during the 1991 uprising. Two had been young boys, hauled off with their families, then shot and dumped in the mass graves. Somehow they had survived by feigning death. After dark they had crawled out of the pits and escaped into neighboring villages. I was barely able to hold back tears as I shook their hands.
Next we visited the New Iraq. The key organization was Qizwini's "Regional Democracy Center." This included a local radio station, "the Voice of Independent Democratic Iraq." He had opened an Internet café where students, most of them theologians, were attentively studying the screens of the twenty-five commuters the CPA had provided. There were searching the Web for information about the many aspects of democracy. I was also introduced to a score of abaya-shrouded women studying and writing about women's rights and human rights.
..."I added that there were still people who doubted that overthrowing the tyrant Saddam had been beneficial. There were others who considered a peaceful and democratic Iraq to be nothing but a dream.
My message to both groups of people is simple:
Come to Al-Hillah
Come and see the mass graves and say that Iraqis cannot build a pluralistic society.
If it is a dream, it is a dream shared by millions of Iraqis.
One can disagree with the war, but at least educate yourself about both sides.
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