From the New York Times today, a story about the mass exodus of middle class Iraqis to Syria, Jordan and anywhere else where death squads don’t roam the streets and bombs are not exploding on a daily basis:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 18 — Deaths run like water through the life of the Bahjat family. Four neighbors. A barber. Three grocers. Two men who ran a currency exchange shop.
But when six armed men stormed into their sons’ primary school this month, shot a guard dead, and left fliers ordering it to close, Assad Bahjat knew it was time to leave.
“The main thing now is to just get out of Iraq,” said Mr. Bahjat, standing in a room heaped with suitcases and bedroom furniture in eastern Baghdad.
In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country’s estimated middle class.
(cont. below the fold)
1.85 million new passports in 10 months. Seven percent of the Iraqi populace. If this occurred in the United States we’d be talking about 24 and 1/2 million people. That is just an incredible rate. And the ones who are leaving are the best educated and most financially successful people. Businessmen, professionals, medical doctors. The people with the means and motivation to make Iraqi society work are voting with their feet. It’s a vote Bush is losing:
Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million. Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations.
Since the bombing of a shrine in Samarra in February touched off a sectarian rampage, crime and killing have spread further through Iraqi society, paralyzing neighborhoods and smashing families. Now, on the brink of a new, permanent government, Iraqis are expressing the darkest view of their future in three years. “We’re like sheep at a slaughter farm,” said a businessman, who is arranging a move to Jordan. “We are just waiting for our time.”
“Now I am isolated,” said Monkath Abdul Razzaq, a middle-class Sunni Arab, who decided to leave after the bombing. “I have no government. I have no protection from the government. Anyone can come to my house, take me, kill me and throw me in the trash.”
Traces of the leaving are sprinkled throughout daily life. Mr. Abdul Razzaq, who will move his family to Syria next month, where he has already rented an apartment, said a fistfight broke out while he waited for five hours in a packed passport office to fill out applications for his two young sons. In Salheyah, a commercial district in central Baghdad, bus companies that specialize in Syria and Jordan say ticket sales have surged.
Karim al-Ani, the owner of one of the firms, Tiger Company, said a busy day last year used to be three buses, but in recent months it comes close to 10. “Before it was more tourists,” he said. “Now we are taking everything, even furniture.”
The impact can be seen in neighborhoods here. While much of the city bustles during daytime hours, the more war-torn areas, like in the south and in Ameriya, Ghazaliya, and Khadra in the west, are eerily empty at midday. On Mr. Bahjat’s block in Dawra, only about 5 houses out of 40 remain occupied. Empty houses in the area are scrawled with the words “Omar Brigade,” a Sunni group that kills Shiites.
This sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? Yet, you may be surprised to learn that the word on the right side of the blogosphere is exactly the opposite. Iraq is booming and not only are Iraqis not leaving, they’re returning in record numbers. Or at least so claims this blogger who relies on an op-ed by this expat Iranian writer in Commentary magazine:
The first sign is refugees. When things have been truly desperate in Iraqin 1959, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1980, 1988, and 1990 long queues of Iraqis have formed at the Turkish and Iranian frontiers, hoping to escape. In 1973, for example, when Saddam Hussein decided to expel all those whose ancestors had not been Ottoman citizens before Iraqs creation as a state, some 1.2 million Iraqis left their homes in the space of just six weeks. This was not the temporary exile of a small group of middle-class professionals and intellectuals, which is a common enough phenomenon in most Arab countries. Rather, it was a departure en masse, affecting people both in small villages and in big cities, and it was a scene regularly repeated under Saddam Hussein.
Since the toppling of Saddam in 2003, this is one highly damaging image we have not seen on our television setsand we can be sure that we would be seeing it if it were there to be shown. To the contrary, Iraqis, far from fleeing, have been returning home. By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees topped the 1.2-million mark. Many of the camps set up for fleeing Iraqis in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia since 1959 have now closed down. The oldest such center, at Ashrafiayh in southwest Iran, was formally shut when its last Iraqi guests returned home in 2004.
Well those are certainly diametrically opposed visions of Iraq, now aren’t they. You have, on the one hand, the New York Times Report, from a reporter currently in Baghdad, reporting figures received from the Iraqi government, as well as interviews with Iraqi civilians and his own first hand observations.
On the other hand, you have Mr. Amir Taheri, a frequent commentator on the Middle East for the New York Post (though he now lives in Europe) with articles in The National Review Online, appearances on CNN, and a listing as a speaker with Benador Associates. From what I can gather after reviewing what he’s written online, he’s not a reporter, but he is an apologist for the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East (in Iraq especially). Where he gets the numbers he quotes in his Commentary essay, I do not know, but I have not seen a more rosy colored vision of Iraq set forth anywhere, not even in press briefings by Donald Rumsfeld.
Compare this excerpt from the NY Times report today…
In Dawra, one of the worst areas in all of Baghdad, public life has ground to a halt. Four teachers have been killed in the past 10 days in Mr. Bahjat’s area alone, and the Ahmed al-Waily primary school where the Bahjat boys, ages 12 and 8, studied, may not be able to hold final exams because of the killings. And three teachers from the Batoul secondary school were shot in late April.
Trash is collected only sporadically. On April 3, insurgents shot seven garbage collectors to death near their truck, and their bodies lay in the area for eight hours before the authorities could collect them, said Naeem al-Kaabi, deputy mayor for municipal affairs in Baghdad. In all, 312 trash workers have been killed in Baghdad in the past six months.
…with this hopeful depiction of Iraq described by Mr Taheri:
Finally, despite the impression created by relentlessly dire reporting in the West, the insurgency has proved unable to shut down essential government services. Hundreds of teachers and schoolchildren have been killed in incidents including the beheading of two teachers in their classrooms this April and horrific suicide attacks against school buses. But by September 2004, most schools across Iraq and virtually all universities were open and functioning. By September 2005, more than 8.5 million Iraqi children and young people were attending school or universityan all-time record in the nations history.
A similar story applies to Iraqs clinics and hospitals. Between October 2003 and January 2006, more than 80 medical doctors and over 400 nurses and medical auxiliaries were murdered by the insurgents. The jihadists also raided several hospitals, killing ordinary patients in their beds. But, once again, they failed in their objectives. By January 2006, all of Iraqs 600 state-owned hospitals and clinics were in full operation, along with dozens of new ones set up by the private sector since liberation.
I don’t know about you, but I have to wonder where Mr. Taheri is getting his information, if indeed, he’s not simply pulling his facts out of thin air, making them up as needed to fit his argument. I know where the Times, at least, gets its information; from reporters on the scene in Iraq who have talked to actual Iraqi citizens, like this sad man painfully telling the reporter why it is time for his family to go:
Last fall, a foul smell led neighbors to the bodies of seven family members in a house several doors down from the Kubbas. They had been robbed. Fehed Kubba, 15, went to buy bread last year and saw a crowd near the bakery that he assumed was watching a backgammon game. When he pushed in to look, he saw a man who had just been shot to death.
But it was the increasingly sectarian nature of the violence, deeply painful to Iraqis who are proud of their intermarried heritage, that tipped the scales as Falah Kubba and his wife, Samira, considered leaving with Fehed, Roula, 13, and Heya, 12.
“The past few months convinced us,” said Mr. Kubba, a businessman whose wife is Sunni. “Now they are killing by ID’s. The killing around Americans was something different, but the ID’s, you can’t move around on the streets.”
“At the beginning we said, ‘Let’s wait, maybe it will be better tomorrow,’ ” Mr. Kubba said.
“Now I know it is time to go.”
That has the ring of authenticity to it that no amount of shinola from the likes of Mr. Taheri can overcome. Too bad our friends in the Right Wing World will never accept its truth. After all, as far as they are concerned the New York Times is a commie infested pro-terrorist rag who just wants our troops to fail.
And that is the true shame of our country’s political divide, where so many Americans will only accept a “truth” that’s fixed around their prejudices and false assumptions about the world. A “truth” that is killing Iraqis like Mr. Kubba and his family everyday.