Skip to comments.Emad Dhia: Iraqis? "They feel free." Troubles? "They are blaming Saddam, of course."
Posted on 07/08/2003 10:26:52 AM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl
Mr. Dhia founded the Iraqi Forum for Democracy several years ago in -- here in the United States. He is a mechanical engineer and former project manager on a variety of engineering projects in Iraq. In 1982 he left Baghdad and has lived in the United States since then.
Earlier this year he put his life on hold to organize a global network of Iraqi volunteers, who made themselves available to go to Iraq after the conflict and to assist in the reconstruction and the post-hostility period. This group, known as the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, consists of some 120, 130 Iraqis, and they are now sort of assigned across the ministries in Baghdad and across the regions in Iraq, offering technical expertise in fields as wide- ranging as agriculture to the various technical -- health ministries, et cetera, culture -- the Culture Ministry, things such -- of that nature. They bring energy, knowledge, skill and, most importantly, the firsthand knowledge, in most cases, of life under Saddam Hussein.
We've asked Ahmad to offer some of his reflections in these early weeks and months since the end of the major combat phase of this operation. Mr. Dhia.
Dhia: Good afternoon. I would talk first about the Iraqi people that I talked to and lived with for the last eight weeks in Baghdad. I would talk about the freedom. The people of Iraq, for the first time in 34 years, they feel free. There's no question about that. This is the truth. You can see it. You can feel it. And you can notice, when you talk to the Iraqis, they are speaking their minds. If they don't like something, they go in the street and demonstrate. That never happened under Saddam regime.
Also, in the street of Baghdad, you see over 50 newspapers, all these newspapers representing different parties and political (Inaudible.). They write with no fear of prosecution or imprisonment. And that's the first time happening in Iraq.
Then I talk about the Iraqi living conditions: how they make their whole lives, and what's -- if there is any improvement happen in the Iraqi lives. The average government employee income multiplies between the time before the war and after the war, after liberation. Before liberation, an average employee monthly income was about 10,000 dinars, which runs about $5. The first advance that they received to cover their living expenses was $40 for the government employees and for the retirees. Some of the retirees, actually the military retirees, they received $60. And that runs about 60,000 dinars to 80,000 dinars. That's compared to the 10,000 Iraqi dinars they used to receive as a monthly salary on average. And that's not counted as a salary. They also start receiving (Inaudible.) salary. An (Inaudible.) salary itself is substantially more than the original salary or the average salary the government employee used to receive before liberation. That, coupled with stabilities -- stability in prices of the good and groceries, some of the prices stay put; some of them, they went down.
On the services. The Iraqis now have better access to electric power with all the challenges we have on the distribution side. Unfortunately, the remnants of Saddam's regime, they are shooting our high-tension lines, which they run in Iraq for hundreds of miles. They also go and throw a grenade on a switching station or a transformer to sabotage the process of providing electricity to all Iraqis. And this is happening at the middle of the summer, and the environment of 130 degree outside, and at a time when the average Iraqi student in Baghdad trying to sit down and read and get ready for his final exams. So Iraqi families are really frustrated by what they are doing. And that exactly tells you which side those remnants of Saddam regime are standing on. Definitely it's not the people's side.
And I will talk about the general security issue. The security in Iraq continue -- the situation will continue as long as those Saddam's remnants exist, and, as the president said, that these Ba'ath Party officials and the security officers of Saddam regime, they will not stop at -- they will stop at nothing to regain their power and their privileges.
Their privileges during Saddam regime was extensive, up to we've seen salaries of his people, between the grants he gave them and between their truthful salaries, up to 100 times their peers; you know, the guy sitting next door to his office. He receives 100 times more money than what his peer receives. That's how Saddam was employing those people. Those people they lost those privileges, they lost their power, and they are fighting back. We understand that. And we're going to fight them back and we're going to defeat them.
Di Rita: Thank you, Ahmad. And do you have more, or do you want to just take some Q&A?
Dhia: Just one point I'd like to mention here. The objectives of those people, the remnants of Saddam, are different from the objectives of the Iraqi people. The objective of the Iraqi people is to enjoy liberty and start the democratic process. They are looking forward to have a free and just Iraq, and they try to enjoy the new future that the United States are helping to build in Iraq. And unfortunately, those remnants will be there until we take them out. I think Iraqi people, once they realize Saddam and his sons are either dead or captured, we will have much more cooperation from Iraqi people in this process.
Q: Because you were talking about how the Iraqi people are feeling more relaxed now that Saddam is not there. But is the specter of him affecting the civilian population also, in -- do they want to be seen as collaborators? Are they afraid of that in their dealings with the U.S. and is that having an effect?
Dhia: Well, they are mad on him, actually, because his impact on their lives, as I said -- like they're a student trying to ready for the final exams in the high school, which is happening, I think, the 14th of July or 13th of July, and they can't find a light in the night to sit down and read, for example.
Q: And they blame Saddam, not the U.S.?
Dhia: They are blaming Saddam, of course.
Q: You were in Baghdad, and we get press reports that there is strong anti-American feeling in the Sunni area of Baghdad up to Tikrit, west of Al Fallujah. How much of that did you come across? How much of it did you gather where there is expression that we are an army of occupation, U.S. forces, and that the population would prefer we left and just turned the country back to whomever?
Dhia: Most of these points of -- where the terrorists gather themselves and act against our forces, they are the concentration of the (Inaudible.) systems, which is -- they are the most loyal part of the military to Saddam Hussein regime at the time. He selected them from those areas where you see the attacks on the American soldiers right now.
Q: But among the populace, the civilians you talk to of all ranks, did you find that there is a strong or growing anti-American feeling because our forces are there?
Dhia: To the contrary. I saw the people of Baghdad, and I saw people of other provinces. They are mad on those people. Those people, they were the thieves. They are the people who abuse their power. To give you an example, I passed by the -- (Inaudible.) -- and there were like 10 or 12 houses, very lavish houses. And I said, "Who those houses belong to?" And they said, "Those are the (Inaudible.). Those are the people who are fighting us." Understandably, they have all these privileges. And they say they don't pay a penny for those houses.
Q: Larry, you said that there are 50,000, more or less, students at Baghdad University. Many of the teachers there were selected by the Ba'ath Party, they are loyalists. Are any efforts being made to change the school leadership or teachers there at all?
Di Rita: Well, I'll let Ahmad speak to that. I mean, we've done that.
Dhia: Actually, a lot of work being done at the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Education itself as well. I'm proud to say that some of the IRDC members, they were very instrumental in the process of weeding out those high-ranking Ba'athists in the universities and helping the election process that followed that -- eliminating of the Ba'athists or the high-ranking Ba'athists from the universities followed by election process. For the first time, they elected the president of the University of Baghdad for the first time in Iraq history. Usually it's assigned by the government.
And this is a new era. This is the real freedom that the Iraqi people now enjoying and living it with its all reality. They feel it, I hope, as we go. It takes time to have all these elements of democracy and freedom set in place and people start practicing it. It's going to take time. We've been there three months only. I mean, three months is not a long time in a history of a nation of the age of our nation. It's a very short time, actually. And look how much we have done already.
Q: Mr. Dhia, I want to go back to the Saddam tape. If it turns out that the tape is authentic, how much of a setback will that be to U.S. and Iraqi efforts to convince the public he is gone and not coming back?
Dhia: In all honesty, I don't think there were an effort to convince Iraqi public he was dead. We said from the beginning we don't know if he was dead or not. The perception of Iraqis, he is not dead and his sons are not dead. For Iraqis, his departure was the best thing probably happened in their life for the last 34 years.
The tape itself, I watched Al Jazeera yesterday and they had a program about the tape. And there were eight Iraqis called, if I remember correctly. Seven of them, they said, "We really hate this tape; why you played it? It's really hurt our feeling to listen to it. We don't want to hear this guy again. We despise him. We hate him."
Dhia: To the contrary...
They are blaming Saddam, of course.
"They can walk down the road and there's no-one there, though the pavement is one huge crowd...They....feel free, they...feel free."
When they are done in Iraq perhaps they can get cracking here, at home
Where is the western media devoting their time in their efforts to keep us informed here in the USA?
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Gee, why aren't we doing everything perfectly after 4 months? Never mind that the press doesn't credit their awesome progress and falsely accuses the troops regularly while handing our enemies their powerful pens to sell enemy propaganda. Mistakes? How dare our troops and THIS President make any. (rant just getting started)
The people of Iraq, for the first time in 34 years, they feel free. There's no question about that. This is the truth.
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