Iraq: June 23, 2004


Coalition troops in Iraq have come face-to-face with the reasons  why Arab countries have a hard time establishing democracies. In Iraq, a large portion of the population follows a very different reality than actually exists. This makes it difficult for any government to make decisions on the basis of facts. Instead, many imaginary items have to be dealt with. For example, before Saddam was overthrown, many Iraqis believed that all their woes were the result of foreign plots and conspiracies, as well as Saddams greedy and vicious rule. After Saddam was toppled, many Iraqis expected everything to magically get better immediately. American civil affairs troops were perplexed at this attitude, and still have a hard time dealing with it. As a result of that attitude, still widely held, many Iraqis believe America is needlessly punishing Iraq for some mysterious reasons. Iraqi-Americans, acting as translators for civil affairs units, could only shrug their shoulders when asked to explain these attitudes. Arabs who immigrate to the West quickly adapt to the local logic, but still maintain their ability to deal with the very flexible reality practiced back home. While the United States recognizes belief in UFOs and secret committees (Jewish, WASP or Bavarian) that actually control the world, as fringe opinions, not to be taken seriously, in the Arab world, such "fringe thinking" is much more mainstream. Arab rulers have to deal with this, even though they can meet with Western counterparts, shrug their shoulders and quip, "that's what my people believe and I have to deal with it."

The prevalence of fantasy, as an alternative to reality, in Iraq is aided by foreign opponents to the overthrow of  Saddam by American invasion. While many countries in the Middle East and Europe were glad to see Saddam go, they did not like seeing it done via American troops. As a result, the Arab and European media demonize anything American troops do in Iraq, and feed this biased coverage back to Iraqis who accept it as fact. In the long run, Iraqis will look back on those al Jazeera screeds and say, "how silly, how could anyone believe such foolishness?" But it's 2004, not 2014, and most Iraqis do believe that American troops are spending most of their time committing atrocities and doing nothing to protect Iraqis from terrorists and criminals. 

Yet American troops and Iraqi police can still work together, right next to Iraqis holding newspapers full of stories denying such cooperation exists. American troops get used to going through neighborhoods where they always get friendly waves, except on the day after Al Jazeera ran some fantasy about imagined American atrocities, when all the troops get are angry stares. The next day, the smiles are back. But on the day after al Jazeera, or even a local newspaper, has run with some imaginative lies, some Iraqis can go beyond hard stares, and go up on the roof and open up with an AK-47. Usually, these guys don't hit anything. But often, American troops fire back with much more deadly effect. The bereaved family, of  course, blames the Americans. 

So, in addition to the terrorists, Baath Party diehards and plain old gangsters, American troops have to deal with popular alternate realities. Like the civil affairs people, most troops quickly adapt. Iraqi inability to face the world as logically as Americans is just another problem, like clearing out the roadside bombs and snipers before you move through a town. But lies are weapons, often deadly weapons, and American soldiers die because of them. 


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