Awkward in Hadithah

Below – Congressional delegation (Codel) landing at the Hadithah LZ

An awkward moment came when Hadithah Mayor Hakim announced that he hoped the Republicans would win in the fall elections.   He obfuscated a little when the Democratic Codel leader reminded him that three out of the four members of the visiting Codel were Democrats, but he didn’t back down.    His point was that he wanted America to stay in Iraq until the country was secure and he was spooked by the talk of precipitous withdrawal he heard from the U.S.   

Back in the MRAP a colleague clarified what had happened.   He recalled that when he traveled in the Balkans in the late 1990s, he found that many people favored the Democrats because they feared the Republicans would cut support.   In general, they fear a change in the American policy that has protected them – in some cases literally saved their lives – and they remember the opposition to the surge came mostly from Democrats.   Their opinions stem from a misunderstanding of American domestic politics and, ironically, overconfidence in the veracity of political statements made publicly by politicians.   They think Amerrican politicans might mean what they say.  It is another concrete example of how our domestic political squabbles spill over into our foreign relationships.

It is sort of like a domestic dispute in the big house on the hill, with all the neighbors watching and some of them taking sides.

In any case, the Democratic delegation leader assured all those present that America would not abandon its friends no matter which party won the White House this fall. 

Mayor Hakim made other, less controversial, points.  He thanked America for saving his country and hoped that Iraq would now have the good fortune of countries like Germany and Japan who, in his opinion, benefited from American occupation and attention.   The mayor favors federalism, which he sees as the only way a country as diverse as Iraq can govern itself and make most people reasonably content.   (In any case, centralized decisions making has not worked out so well for the last … oh 5000 years.)  Maybe a more bottom up system would work better.  

The city council president agreed with his mayor on most things, but disagreed about federalism.  He thought that federalism was the slippery slope to disunion.  The mayor pointed out that this showed that they enjoyed democracy in Hadithah.   The mayor and the city council could publicly disagree and, referring again to his early comment on Republicans and Democrats, everybody could speak freely.

All the Iraqis seemed to agree that Iran was a threat to Iraq and a general menace to the peace in the region.    They feared that the day the last American left Iraq would be the same day the Iranians started moving in.  The U.S. had made Iraq too weak to defend itself, they said, and should remain here until Iraq was strong enough to defend itself.

Following the meeting with city officials, the Codel went on a short walk through the market district of Hadithah.  Unfortunately, they could not walk through the main market because the streets are being repaved and sidewalks are being installed, with the help of the USAID funded IRD, BTW.   Of course, they COULD have walked past the construction, as most Hadithah shopper do, but this was precluded by security since the Marine vehicles following the pedestrians could not negotiate the construction zone.

Despite not being the main market area, the streets were lively and the people friendly.   People expressed gratitude to the U.S. for helping make the city safe again.  One individual spoke in English, saying that he had been to London many years ago and had worked in the oil industry as a young man.    When asked about security, he said that he now felt safe to go out day or night.  Only six or eight months ago everybody had to hunker down even during daylight and going out after dark was completely out of the question.

Things are much better now.