Parallel Worlds

Baghdad resident, Mohammad Fadhil, gives his view of the state of the information war in a recent Pajamas Media post.

When Arabs or westerners ask me about the situation and I answer that hope remains and that we’re looking forward to a better future most would say ‘Are you living in this world?’ I answer, ‘Yes, it’s you who live in the parallel world the media built for you with images of only death and destruction’.

If it surprised some of them that a poll found Iraqis optimistic, then I’m surprised that someone finally bothered to ask Iraqis how they feel.

I happen to think Mr Fadhil is right about the media, but he and I could be wrong. There are certainly Baghdadis who paint as bleak a picture as the Western MSM. I don’t really know, and I know I don’t know, because I am not in Iraq. For most of us the real situation in Iraq is one of those things that Donald Rumsfeld termed a known unknown. Many – members of congress, opponents of the war, even depressed neocons – who are also not in Iraq seem to be absolutely certain that Iraq is a complete debacle. I think the issue in Iraq is still very much in doubt and will be worked out eventually by Iraqis one way or another with more or less help from the US military. But I also think the parallel world the media have created outside Iraq is very real. It has had a major impact on American public opinion and the 2006 congressional elections. As someone living outside the US, I can tell you it has a massive effect on world opinion. I was at a social gathering the other night and a teenage boy simply asked, “Why don’t they just leave?” with a tone of pained disbelief. It’s fair to say his worldview wasn’t conditioned by direct experience of Iraq, but by the parallel universe created by the media. Some, not satisfied with the regular parallel world, want an enhanced version. I recall reading a couple of years ago that 40 some percent of Germans believed that Bush was responsible for knocking down the Twin Towers. Conversely, those of the right who would have it that everything is fine in Iraq have been conspicuously quiet lately.

Is there anyone who brings the two universes together? I think so. This piece by Michael J Totten describes the amazing development around Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. This isn’t Michael’s first trip there and even he is astonished at the both the scale and the rate at which things are developing. The core of his post is this simple statement:

Nation-building is a hard and violent slog in the center and south of Iraq, and it might not ever work out. But in Kurdistan, in the north, it already is a reality.

Massive new construction projects are literally everywhere. Most of those that had started when I arrived for the first time are finished, and ambitious new projects are well underway.

New Towers Near Airport Erbil.jpg
New apartment towers next to the Dream City project.
The Dream City, which only existed on paper when I first got here, is now partly constructed.

There are more pictures of a planned project here, a present one here, and the old city here. Read the whole thing, it’s amazing.

Also notice that Michael points out that it may never work out in the rest of Iraq. Perhaps this statement brings home the contrast best:

In the meantime, the Kurds are doing their best to cultivate civil relations with the Sunni Arabs while digging a massive trench on the Green Line to keep the insurgents, the car-bombers, and the suicide-bombers out. The trench is more like a castle moat, really. It’s 5 meters wide, 5 meters deep, and it drops straight down. Anyone trying to cross it without building a bridge will find themselves in a free fall. It’s an inverted version of the wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians.

Parallel worlds in Iraq separated by a ditch. One thing a good look at Kurdistan makes clear is that things really are bad in the rest of Iraq. Perhaps impossible, but we shall see. On the other hand Kurdistan demonstrates how good things could be in the rest of Iraq and makes it clear exactly who is responsible for trying to prevent that outcome.

I’ll just repeat what Mohammad Fadhil said about Iraqi optimism:

If it surprised some of them that a poll found Iraqis optimistic, then I’m surprised that someone finally bothered to ask Iraqis how they feel.

2 Responses to “Parallel Worlds”  

  1. 1 Mike

    A few points about Erbil:

    The city is ruled by a select political elite who live in luxury. Their contribution to the people of Erbil to date includes:

    • 5-star hotels and Iraq’s biggest shopping mall and luxury housing complexes
    • 100s of luxury apartments in preparation for the upcoming UN invasion
    • New highways underpasses which we don’t need
    • Private schools, colleges and universities for the privileged few
    • Private hospitals for a handful of government officials
    • Civil servant job creation schemes
    • Vast property empires: They’ve taken over entire villages and real estate
    which used to belong to Saddam Hussein’s cronies

    What they haven’t achieved

    • Enough schools and colleges
    • A power grid which operates for more than a
    few hours a day (They live in areas supplied by
    private generators providing a 24-hour power supply
    • Adequate sanitation – the city’s sewers and water supply
    have not been maintained for decades
    • Anything remotely resembling a health care system.

    There’s more:

    • The average salary is less than $300 month.
    • Prices and rents are similar to in Europe
    • The price of gasoline and kerosene has trebled over the last 4 months
    • There are street kids and beggars are everywhere.
    Most have migrated into the cities from the country.
    • The few farmers there are left grow crops which they can’t sell because the
    government sits back and watches most fruit and vegetables being
    imported from abroad.

    • Women are still “kept in the home?, or behind closed doors for that matter. Many
    parents do not allow even their daughters to work. Instead they sit at home and
    watch TV when the power is on, which is usually only 2 hours a day. You see very
    few women anywhere. Most marriages are arranged. Having a boyfriend or
    girlfriend is ot of the question. Kurdish legislation is based Sharia law. Honor
    killings are not unusual

    The people of Kurdistan are not enjoying any form of prosperity. Like the rest of Iraq most are worse off than when the Baathists were in power.

    The uprisings are just around the corner!

  2. 2 admin

    I would normally delete a comment like this that simply makes a series of assertions without even identifying the author sufficiently to assess on what basis the comments are being made. Mike says ‘we’ don’t need the new highway underpasses implying that he is in Kurdistan. If so, that is in Mike’s favor. On the other hand his IP address leads to the Netherlands and Mike isn’t a common Kurdish name. So its the Internet – anyone can say anything from anywhere. However, his comments do seem to identify him as someone with a Marxist ideological bent as evidenced by his beginning with the mention of an elite living in luxury and ending with the prediction of an uprising just around the corner. In between a lot of what he says is largely in line with what Michael J Totten reports – no electric grid, high prices, older parts of the city run down. Sounds like any early stage capitalist situation from London in 1750, to Shanghai today. Still Mike is not a fanatic – he is just like a lot of people who don’t want to allow that anything positive has come from the invasion of Iraq. In that his comment appears to me to shore up the parallel world that Mohammad Fadhil says the MSM have constructed. I think that all those construction jobs, however poorly paid, are better than anything the Kurds had under Saddam. And from the poll Fadhil mentioned I don’t think they will be rising up any time soon. I would argue that this kind of economic activity eventually produces enough surplus wealth so that things like universites and health care become possible.

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