Wednesday, February 25, 2009

If You Have an Election On Superbowl Weekend Will Anyone Notice?

For most of the month of December and January I was immersed in planning contingency operations for the provincial elections that were held all over Iraq. My piece was very, very small but very rewarding.

I learned a lot about Iraqi government. I learned that it is completely unlike ours. Theirs is a system based on a forty year old system of communist style command and control, designed to “top down” keep the masses in line. That same system is now turned so that it is supposed to flow “bottom up.” In other words, the system is supposed to now represent the people, not the government.

There are other significant structural issues to this system that confuse and confound people who look at it. For example; the government does not collect taxes. However, because the local governments have no source of income except for what it provided by Baghdad, the town councils and muhdirs (moo’-Deer), or mayor, have no control over the local officials who run the essential services. No, the people who clean up trash, make sure the lights are on, and ensure teachers are in schools are all from a parallel system of service ministries. Confused yet? Keep in mind NI3E (Nothing In Iraq Is Easy).

As convoluted as the system is, the fact remains that it works. Although imperfect, the people understand where to go and how to get things done.

The elections in January were a big deal in this country. This was really the first time citizens could vote from an “open ballot” and choose the representative of their specific choosing. The provincial elections in Babil saw over 1400 people run in 78 different political parties for just 30 seats. Over 14,000 people ran for office all over Iraq! This was a big deal because no one imagined that we’d get this far in the security of the country to hold them.

In Babil, 56% of the registered voters went to the polls on January 31st to cast their ballot. That’s about 10% more than the turn out for the US elections. The election went off with very little violence, although there was some, and the winners are now in “school” to learn how to be provincial leaders. If these new leaders can/will begin to actually represent the people then the country will have turned another small corner towards a stable future.

I was home on the weekend of the elections. The first Sunday in February fell on that weekend. A Sunday holy to sports fans and advertizing executives all over the US. Superbowl Sunday.

I looked for news of the elections. Having left in a hurry on Januray 31st I didn’t know if the polling sites stayed secure, or if there were mass casualty incidents. Coming home I anxiously looked for news on the elections. It was hard to find any information about the elections at all.
Then, live, from Iraq, breaking news! Soldiers watching the Superbowl will get to drink two real beers! Really?! That’s the best CNN, NBC, whatever could do? We relaxed General Order #1 and let Soldiers drink beer while watching the big game?

News networks are closing their Baghdad offices and moving on to where the “story” is – Afghanistan. There is no more news here in Iraq. Iraq is old news, it’s over; forgetting the cost in American dollars and lives and forgetting the shattered bodies and minds of those that served and those who love them.

What a shame. You missed the big win.

1 comment:

Colleen said...

I encourage everyone to balance the narrow scope of reporting in the western media with what Iraqis think is real news in their nation: