Iraqis Say Daily Life Devoid of Progress

Four years after the U.S. invasion, many Iraqis still lack jobs, as well as basic services such as electricity. People blame politicians, whom they say are out of touch with their needs.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Joining us to get a take on the Iraqi side of this debate is NPR's Jamie Tarabay, who is in Baghdad.

Hello, Jamie.

JAMIE TARABAY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, we just heard how the U.S. Congress is struggling with this war, members seemed to be blaming Iraqi lawmakers for not doing enough.

TARABAY: Well, the Iraqi politicians I've been speaking to here over the past few days all say that here in Iraq it's a totally different political reality. Washington and Baghdad are working two very different timelines. And the viewing here is that the Iraqis are being asked to do too much too soon. Many of the politicians resent what they see as an American agenda that they're being pressured to carry out. And for some, there's even a reluctance to move on some legislation that's against their interest if they see the Americans preparing to leave. So it's a catch-22. If they rush through legislation to make Washington happy, they could lose local support. But while the Americans are still here they want to be seen to be cooperating.

MONTAGNE: Jamie, you know the lawmakers there can say that but the view from the American side is that they spend an awfully lot of time bickering and basically not getting anything done. What are the lawmakers there doing?

TARABAY: Well, there's two levels. The Iraqi parliament itself is just fraught with division. At the moment, Sunni lawmakers are boycotting and the legislature has about two weeks left of work before it breaks for a month-long summer vacation. The Iraqi cabinet is also in crisis. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is considered to be very weak and unable to push forward reform at all.

There's a lot of, as you said, bickering going on by the various political party leaders, you know, important bills like the one on oil revenue distribution or, you know, the debaathification review. They continue to stall because of this bickering, and so they haven't even made it yet to the parliament floor.

MONTAGNE: And when you get a chance to talk to what you might call the average Iraqi, do they think their government is making progress?

TARABAY: Well, most Iraqis consider the politicians to be acting on their own interests and the parties that they represent. We spoke to several Iraqis today, and some say that they didn't even know that the president was speaking on television. Some said that even if they knew about it, they couldn't have watched it because they don't have any electricity.

According to the Brookings Institution, Baghdad still averages only about six hours of electricity a day. And this is the fourth summer that Iraqis are coping with a hundred degree heat, and they have to buy fuel for generators because they don't have power to use their air conditioners. So those are the immediate concerns of the Iraqis here. They care about basic services. They care about finding jobs, that is, if they're not directly concerned about the security situation here.

MONTAGNE: One theme in President Bush's news conference yesterday was al-Qaida in Iraq. He mentioned it at least 30 times, framed the war in Iraq as one against the terrorist group, and basically bundled al-Qaida in Iraq with Osama bin Laden and the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks. Is al-Qaida in Iraq that powerful?

TARABAY: Well, the U.S. military here believes that al-Qaida in Iraq is the biggest threat to Iraq security and says the group is behind the acceleration of sectarian violence. But that's not clear, and the U.S. military hasn't provided adequate evidence about just who it considers to be al-Qaida. You know, there are several Islamist groups operating around Iraq that claim links with al-Qaida, some whose existence in Iraq predates with the arrival of official al-Qaida groups.

We've asked the military how it can bundle up all these groups together under one banner and one philosophy, you know, with the ability to communicate and coordinate attacks. But we haven't received very satisfactory answers ourselves. And we see little evidence of al-Qaida's involvement in inter-ethnic fighting and the fighting between militia groups, whether they're Sunni and Shia or just Shia versus Shia.

MONTAGNE: Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad.

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