What would really rebuild Iraq
War has totally disrupted family, education, and culture.
"Iraqi mothers want the same thing for their children American mothers want for theirs," President Bush has said. "A place for their child to grow up and get a good education and be able to realize dreams."Skip to next paragraph
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The president is correct. The two institutions Iraqis prize most are family and education. But the US military occupation and the insurgency have produced a total disruption of both. Can Iraqis return to social normalcy so long as US troops – and their enemies – are engaged there?
One has to look no further than the Palestinian territories to discover the long-term effects of children not going to school. Israel's occupation and perennial lockdown of Palestinians created a new uneducated generation seeking salvation through the radical Islam of Hamas.
In Iraq, disruption of education and family life seems to be having a similar effect. A UN report suggests that "non-state armed groups" are ratcheting up their recruitment of Iraqi children. Witness the recently released Al Qaeda-in-Iraq videos showing preteen boys in paramilitary training. Iraqi Interior Minister Fawzi al-Hariri has acknowledged this problem. He hopes a $5 billion job creation program will offer an alternative to militia or gang activity.
The lesson should be obvious: Foreign military occupations of Muslim lands from the Crusades to the present are disruptive of indigenous cultures, destructive, and sooner or later, hated.
In the months ahead, whichever faction – including the Shiite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr – nurtures the Iraqi passion for education, family, and community is likely to win Iraqi public support.
An unfortunate truth is that Washington's plan for nation building has been hamstrung because the insurgents have been targeting contractors and construction workers. This lethal violence maneuvered the US into a "security first, reconstruction later" mode, reminding us that on every battlefield, the enemy always has a vote.
True, the United States has poured billions into rebuilding Iraq. But the standing joke among Iraqis is that a US company will be awarded a $10 billion contract. The work is then subcontracted to a construction company in Kuwait, which in turn subcontracts to an Iraqi firm, which in turn hires four kids to paint a school. Iraqis then laugh and say, "You can be sure none of those kids ever sees the $10 billion." This cynicism, along with the legacy of massive corruption under former dictator Saddam Hussein, has hobbled US reconstruction efforts.