Building Democracy, One Warlord at a Time

The Washington Post has a heartbreaking article which might as well be titled “The More Things Change…” regarding our current “progress” in Fallujah:

[Col. Faisal Ismail al-]Zobaie, 51, knows the nature of the men in black masks. He is a former insurgent. Now, as the police chief, he has turned against the insurgency, especially al-Qaeda in Iraq. The U.S. military showcases Fallujah as a model city where U.S. policies are finally paying off and is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the region to promote the rule of law and a variety of nation-building efforts.

But the security that has been achieved here is fragile, the result of harsh tactics recalling the rule of Saddam Hussein, who was overthrown five years ago. Even as they work alongside U.S. forces, Zobaie’s men admit they have beaten and tortured suspects to force confessions and exact revenge.

In the city’s overcrowded, Iraqi-run jail, located inside a compound that also houses a U.S. military base and U.S. police advisers, detainees were beaten with iron rods, according to the current warden. Many were held for months with no clear evidence or due process. They were deprived of food, medical care and electricity and lived in utter squalor, said detainees, Iraqi police and U.S. military officers, who began to address the problems three weeks ago. Last summer, the warden said, several detainees died of heatstroke.

In Zobaie’s world, to show mercy is to show weakness. In a land where men burn other men alive, harsh tactics are a small price to pay for imposing order, he said.

“We never tortured anybody,” he said. “Sometimes we beat them during the first hours of capture.”

The article goes on to describe exactly what life is like in Fallujah today:

Fallujah today is sealed off with blast walls and checkpoints. Residents are given permits to enter the city. All visitors and their weapons are registered, and police check every car. The U.S. military has divided the city into nine gated communities, each with its own joint security station staffed by U.S. troops and Iraqi police. It also has been buying the loyalties of former Sunni insurgents, paying them $180 a month to join a neighborhood force that works with the police.

Those tactics have damped down the violence. Shops stay open longer, streets are clogged with traffic, and soccer fields brim with children and young men. But for many residents, Fallujah remains a shadow of its former self. “The city is like a big jail,” said Abu Ahmed, a well-known doctor who asked that his nickname be used because he has treated people who were brutalized by Zobaie’s men.

Zobaie ordered imams at mosques to stop preaching in support of the insurgency and against American troops. The mosques have long been a breeding ground for insurgents. Sheik Abu Abdul Salman, an influential 67-year-old imam, didn’t like Zobaie’s order. “He’s worse than Saddam Hussein,” Salman said.

When Zobaie heard of the remark, his voice rose in anger. “Sometimes people are just saying that I did this, I did that. . . . Okay, I tell them, ‘Where were you when al-Qaeda was running this city?’ “

And the end result that Zobaie is working for?

Zobaie has asked the U.S. officers to help obtain more aid for the city from the regional and central governments. Already, the U.S. military is employing street cleaners, building schools and putting up $9 million worth of solar street lights. But some U.S. officers question why insurgents once determined to kill them have so quickly embraced them.

“Every time they talk to you there’s an agenda,” said Miller, the captain who works closely with Zobaie. “You have to figure out what they want right now. If it is this easy, it begs the question: What are we giving them that we don’t know that we’re giving them?”

What Zobaie wants is for the U.S. military to hand over full control of Fallujah. He believes Iraq’s current leaders are not strong enough. Asked whether democracy could ever bloom here, he replied: “No democracy in Iraq. Ever.”

“When the Americans leave the city,” he said, “I’ll be tougher with the people.”

Read the whole article, because what I’ve left out is the American blase attitude towards life in Fallujah today. Not that I blame them. The military simply lacks the resources and political support to build institutions in Iraq that could one day lead to a more liberal state. So instead, in the name of “security”, we’re building up a totalitarian state in the middle of Iraq. Sure, Zobaie is anti-al-Qaeda, but I’ll bet that Saddam Hussein would have been, too, if we’d paid him enough.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Richard Gardner says:

    I’m not so sure after reading the Michael Totten columns on Fallujah, particularly on its jails (not prisons). But yes, the average American doesn’t have any connection to Fallujah, and probably considers the inhabitants savages/barbarians if they even consider them at all. (Not true, but most do not follow this – Afghanistan and Pakistan, OTOH, I consider they have lots of barbarians)

    In the city’s overcrowded, Iraqi-run jail, located inside a compound that also houses a U.S. military base and U.S. police advisers, detainees were beaten with iron rods, according to the current warden.

    Um, the Americans should be telling the Iraqi’s how to run their country, micromanaging like Jimmy Crater? Guilt by locality? Jeffrry Dahmer was in Milwaukee, so everyone there is a freak?

    You expect micromanagement.

  2. tequila says:

    So we got rid of an ugly Sunni-run dictatorship that oppressed its own people and replaced it with …

  3. Michael says:

    Sure, Zobaie is anti-al-Qaeda, but I’ll bet that Saddam Hussein would have been, too, if we’d paid him enough.

    Saddam was already anti-Al-Qaeda, being on their hit list and all for promoting a secular society.

    He supported other terrorists, mostly Palestinian, but not Al Qaeda. Not all terrorists are the same, and supporting one group doesn’t mean another isn’t trying to kill you.