June 21, 2005

As Goes Basra....

An unvarnished look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in Basra, by Steven Vincent. The local political scene and social and cultural behavior are dictated by religious parties in this first level of the new "self-government". Add in lots of thugs with guns, and lots of other users and opportunists doing their best to screw up what the majority of the citizens are trying to build. It sounds like the wild, wild West. Read it all.

...the city of Basra, where image and reality often clash, especially when it comes to the police. A few weeks ago, cops at the Al-Jemayat station house broke into a gun battle over accusations that some were former Baathists. A businessman told me that his partner was recently kidnapped and held for ransom by four men, who used their own police cars to commit the crime. Last May, the city's police chief admitted to the press that 75 percent of his force was "unreliable," and 50 percent was affiliated with religious organizations. And who is behind many of the assassinations (100 during one week in May) of former Baathists around town? Ask your local policeman — or, on second thought, don't.

...a certain segment of Basra's population discovered the hilarity of making bogus emergency calls. To add to the fun, they remove their SIM cards and remain on the line for hours, tying up the system and preventing people with real crises from getting assistance. According to the British officer, "Only about 5 percent of people contacting 115 call actually need help."

And probably even fewer call with medical emergencies. This is because public hospitals in Basra are medical emergencies, short on medicine, equipment, manpower — everything, it seems, except germs. Private centers are another matter, as evidenced by the Al-Moosawi Hospital, a sleek, clean, expensive establishment that looks American right down to the anodyne artwork on the walls. According to director Zaineldin Moosawi, the hospital contains 36 beds and serves up to 250 outpatients a day. "We even have a dental clinic," he enthused.

What they don't have is the one thing you'd expect in a well-equipped Iraqi hospital: an emergency room. "We had one," Dr. Zaineldin recalled. "But it got to be a security problem, with all the gunmen coming in." Seems that young tribal bucks would go a-feuding at night, get themselves shot up, then demand that the Mooswawi Hospital patch them up — and woe to the medic who proved unable to save a wounded brother or cousin's life. "The British encouraged us to shut down the center," said Dr. Zaineldin...

...I don't mean to paint a bleak picture of Basra or its residents. Well, maybe I do. It's painful to watch so many people persist in self-defeating behavior, especially considering that with its potential revenues from oil, agriculture, and tourism, Basra could become the next Bahrain, Dubai, or, for all we know, Orlando. No wonder a few Basrans have expressed the despondent wish, "If only we could empty people out the city and start over again with a new generation."

Posted by dan at June 21, 2005 10:33 AM