A Dispatch From Baghdad Betty
Jude Wanniski
November 13, 2003


Memo To: Karl Rove
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Briefing the President

I'm not sure you are allowed to show the President newspaper articles or internet memos that you find informative. Or is he only allowed to read the Daily Briefings prepared for him by happy White House cherry-pickers? If you can slip him something under the table, Karl, I'd recommend an item I found on the internet from an Iraqi lady whose name nobody knows, but who I think of as "Baghdad Betty." She was a techie in one of Saddam's Ministries, I gather, so she has held on to her computer and internet access -- writing a daily blog on what she sees going on around her. If you tuned in, Karl, you could beat the CIA to the punch, as she will tell you before the snoops do what's what on the ground. Did you read the NYTimes dispatch today on Page 17, which I would have put on Page One? I'll refresh your memory before we get to Betty:

C.I.A. Report Suggests Iraqis Are Losing Faith in U.S. Efforts
By Douglas Jehl

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 — A bleak top-secret report by the Central Intelligence Agency suggests that the situation in Iraq is approaching a crucial turning point, with ordinary Iraqis losing faith in American-led occupation forces and in the United States-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

The report, sent to Washington on Monday by the C.I.A.'s Baghdad station chief, suggests that the situation is creating a more fertile environment for the anti-American insurgency. Officials said the report was adding to the sense of urgency behind the administration's reappraisal of its policies in Iraq.

The officials said that the report, dated Nov. 10, had been explicitly endorsed by L. Paul Bremer III, the top American official in Iraq, and that the warnings it spelled out had been a factor behind Mr. Bremer's abrupt return to Washington for consultations this week.

Now to Baghdad Betty, who you can find daily at http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com, where today she writes about Paul Bremer and his Governing Council, each of whose 25 members are paid $80,000 per year plus expenses (I learned in an earlier blog from the lady). If you are still serious about the President winning re-election next year, perhaps you should do a book mark to Betty and get ahead of the curve.)

Baghdad Burning

... I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend...

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Iraqi Governing Council...
I have to post this fast. The electrical situation has been hellish today. There's no schedule… in our area the electricity is on 30 minutes for every two hours of no electricity. People suspect it's a sort of punishment for what happened in Nassiryah this morning and the bombings in Baghdad this last week. There were also some huge explosions today- the troops got hit by mortars, I think, and retaliated by bombing something.

Also, Mohammed Bahr Ul Iloom was shot at today. Bahr Ul Iloom is one of the Shia clerics (a 'rotating president') and the father of the Minister of Oil. He was unharmed, it seems, but his driver is wounded. While I'm sure Bahr Ul Iloom would love to blame it on loyalists, Ba'athists and Al-Qaeda, the shots actually came from American troops- it was a 'mistake'. Oops.

Bremer is currently in Washington, explaining why the Governing Council are completely useless. The Washington Post article on the diminishing popularity of the Governing Council came as no surprise:

"The United States is deeply frustrated with its hand-picked council members because they have spent more time on their own political or economic interests than in planning for Iraq's political future, especially selecting a committee to write a new constitution, the officials added."

I think it's safe to say that when you put a bunch of power-hungry people together on a single council (some who have been at war with each other), they're going to try to promote their own interests. They are going to push forward their party members, militias and relatives in an attempt to root themselves in Iraq's future.

"Bremer noted that at least half the council is out of the country at any given time and that at some meetings, only four or five members showed up."

Of course they're outside of the country- many of them don't have ties in it. They have to visit their families and businesses in Europe and North America. For some of them, it sometimes seems like the "Governing Council" is something of an interesting hobby- a nice little diversion in the monthly routine: golf on Saturdays, a movie with the family in London on Fridays, a massage at the spa on Tuesdays, and, oh yes- nation-building for 5 minutes with Bremer on the Xth of each month.

People here never see them. Most live in guarded compounds and one never knows what country they are currently in. For example, Chalabi is presently missing. I haven't seen him on the news for… I don't know how long. If anyone has seen him, please send an email- I'm dying to know what he's up to.

I can imagine Bremer preparing for a meeting with the pioneers of Iraqi democracy, the pillars of liberty… the Iraqi Puppet Council. He strides in with his chic suit, flowing hair and polished shoes (the yellow nation-building boots are only for press conferences and photo shoots in Iraqi provinces). He is all anticipation and eagerness: today will be the day. *This* meeting will be the productive meeting which will make headlines.

He strides into the lavish room, Italian heels clicking on the marble floor- there will be 25 faces today. Twenty-five pairs of adoring eyes will follow him around the room. Twenty-five pairs of eager ears will strain to hear his words of wisdom. Twenty-five faces will light up with… but where are the 25? He stops in the middle of the room, heart sinking, ire rising in leaps and bounds. Why are there only 5 unsure faces? Did he have the schedule wrong? Was this the wrong conference room?!

And Bremer roars and rages- where are the Puppets? Where are the marionettes?! How dare they miss yet another meeting! But they all have their reasons, Mr.Bremer: Talbani is suffering from indigestion after an ample meal last night; Iyad Allawi is scheduled for a pedicure in Switzerland this afternoon; Al-Hakim is jetting around making covert threats to the Gulf countries, and Chalabi says he's not attending meetings anymore, he's left the country and will be back when it's time for the elections…

People have been expecting this for some time now. There's a complete and total lack of communication between the Council members and the people- they are as inaccessible as Bremer or Bush. Their speeches are often in English and hardly ever to the Iraqi public. We hear about new decisions and political and economical maneuverings through the voice-overs of translators while the Council members are simpering at some meeting thousands of miles away.

We need *real* Iraqis- and while many may argue that the Council members are actually real Iraqis, it is important to keep in mind that fine, old adage: not everyone born in a stable is a horse. We need people who aren't just tied to Iraq by some hazy, political ambition. We need people who have histories inside of the country that the population can relate to. People who don't have to be hidden behind cement barriers, barbed wire and an army.

Their failure has nothing to do with attacks on troops or terrorism. It has to do with the fact that many of them are only recommendable because they were apparently very good at running away from a difficult situation- and running into the right arms. Another problem is the fact that decent, intelligent people with political ambition refuse to be a part of this fiasco because everyone senses that the Governing Council cannot do anything on its own. Bremer is the head and he's only the tip of the iceberg- he represents Washington.

A national conference is a good idea, but it will fail as miserably as the Puppet Council, unless… there's a timetable. The occupation forces need to set a definite date saying, "We're going to begin pulling out on *this* month, next year- let's get organized before that." A timetable is vital to any progress, if any is going to be made. Only then, will things begin to move forward.

Prominent, popular politicians and public figures don't want to be tied to American apron strings- this includes lawyers, political scientists, writers, and other well-known people. Not because they are American apron-strings per se, but because this is an occupation (by American admission, no less). No matter how much CNN and the rest try to dress it up as a liberation, the tanks, the troops, the raids, the shootings (accidental or otherwise), and the Puppet Council all scream occupation. If it were French, it'd get the same resistance… just as if it were a Saudi, Egyptian or Iranian occupation.

It is also vital that all interested political parties be allowed to be a part of the national conference. Any political conferences in the past have been limited to American-approved political and religious parties which have left a large number of political groups outside of the circle- groups that have more popular support. Furthermore, the conference can't be run and organized by occupation forces (troops and the CPA). If there's one thing Iraqis are good at- it's organizing conferences. Why should vital political decisions critical to Iraq's independence be made under the watchful eyeball of an American Lieutenant or General? Everyone wants a democratic Iraq, but that just isn't going to happen if people constantly associate the government with occupation.

Why should any Iraqi government have to be christened and blessed by Bremer? He wasn't Iraqi, last time I checked.