the Disillusioned kid: Success Story
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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Success Story

I said a while ago that I wouldn't blog about Iraq for a while and indeed I haven't. The situation is becoming increasingly depressing. Sifting through the wealth of information coming out of the country it is difficult to find much, to be positive about. The Sunni insurrection continues, the Shia uprising centered around Moqtada Al-Sadr has reignited and people continue dying, with the country's Christian population becoming targets for the first time in a particularly horrific turn of events. To be fair their are occasional good news stories. The US has finally gotten around to organising rubbish collection in Baghdad, but, given that this has taken almost a year and a half, its difficult to get very excited about it.

One of the most telling stories about the conduct of the occupation is the situation in Basra, which (tellingly in my opinion) does not seem to have attracted much comment in the media. You may recall that Basra has been presented as the "success story". Administered by British troops, who according to the British media at least, are much better behaved than their American counterparts (before anyone accuses me of anti-Americanism, I remain very dubious about these claims) it has largely avoided the violence which has blighted so much of the rest of Iraq and remained relatively peaceful. Even here however, the situation for the population is grim. Ross Mountain, acting special representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, told Reuters, "We are confronting a potential serious humanitarian crisis," with a shortage of drinking water at the peak of summer, a situation exacerbated by ongoing power cuts.

"We have no indication that there is anywhere else in the country that is facing this kind of crisis. Nobody is facing 50 degree (Celsius) temperatures with less than half the supply of water required ... There is nowhere as bad as the Basra area." Basra has apparently always faced problems accessing drinking water despite being close to the Shatt al-Arab waterway formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. This is a consequence of a lack of investment (presumably because the city is largely Shia), the effect of three wars and the sanctions regime. "The south does present the most dire prospect at the moment in terms of (drinking water) supplies. Basra has been traditionally neglected. Lack of maintenance, lack of attention means it is the first to go. The pumps will collapse." Nonetheless these long-running problems should not obscure the fact that the situation in the city is worse than it was before the war. Not only can we not maintain order, but we can't keep the water running either.

Mountain warns that levels were at 40-60% of those required by the population and that "[i]f emergency measures are not taken, there will be loss of life and disease." He also warned of civil unrest, noting, "Water is life and if people don't get water they are unlikely to sit quietly at home. The first demonstrations have already taken place with people protesting and it is not unreasonable to think that could happen again." It goes without saying that the last thing that the occupying forces and the Interim Government need is further unrest in Iraq.

One of the things that's struck me following the developments in Iraq has been the incompetence of the occupying forces: their clumsy efforts to silence Moqtada Al-Sadr's ravings by closing down his paper brought them into open conflict with him and his supporters; their brutal attack on Fallujah turned the entire city against them and forced the US into an embarrassing retreat; and now because we can't get organised to provide the population of Basra with water, we may see them turn against us as well.

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