Iraq: A Nation at War with Itself
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
NPR's Senior Foreign Editor Loren Jenkins is in our Baghdad bureau this week. He joins us from there. Loren, what about the lack of an interior minister and defense minister at the moment for the Iraqi government?
LOREN JENKINS reporting:
Well, I think it's critical. You know, this is a country that's been at war in some form or another for three years now, and there's an insurgency. There's secular violence. There's anarchy in the streets, and in a lot of the cities around the country. Here we are, going on six months after what was supposed to be the election that set the tone and the course of government in the future of Iraq, and they still don't have the critical cabinet ministers who are going to oversee national security. Both the defense minister and the interior minister, they can't seem to decide on who should take the job.
CHADWICK: And why is that?
JENKINS: Well, it's mostly internal fighting between all the various factions that make up the government. They've been battling over this since before the elections. The problem is that the political make of this country is along ethnic and religious divides. So, you know, there's an argument what party or what religion should have this job, or what religion should have that job. They've narrowed it down to saying a Sunni should have the defense ministry, and a Shia should have the interior ministry, and yet they can't decide on who those people should be.
CHADWICK: So many observers would say, look, the house is burning down. Never mind, you know, who's going to hold the hose, just turn the water on and get going.
JENKINS: Yeah. You know, it reminds me, strangely - I was in Saigon in the last months of the Vietnam War, and when the North Vietnamese were almost at the outside of the City of Saigon, having wrapped up the whole North of the country, the Vietnamese were trying to form a new government. And two days from the fall of Saigon, they were still arguing about how to form a government. Iraq's a bit the same way. There's personal rivalries, there's sectarian divisions. They can't seem to get it together to form a real government that's going to rule this country.
CHADWICK: Loren, let me ask you something that I hear from friends who are serving in the military in Iraq that goes to the question of news coverage from there. You're in charge of NPR's coverage from Iraq. Some of these people say what you get in the news still doesn't represent the lives of Iraqi people -outside of Baghdad, anyway - that things actually may be better in Iraq than we are reporting.
JENKINS: Oh, you know, it's - every time I come back here, it's worse. It never seems to get better. I know there are those who say somewhere out there, life is normal. The reason it doesn't get reported, you can't get there. You can't get to half the cities in this country by road, because why? Because they're not normal. Because there are roadblocks. There's people being pulled out of cars and shot because they're this religion or another. Any foreigner who drives on the roads is subject to being kidnapped, unless he's traveling with the American military in a convoy, and even they're attacked.
But yes, there's security if you're surrounded by the Americans where they go. Where they aren't, there's an insurgency. There's anarchy in this country. There's no government. There's not authority in the major part of the country. There are parts of it like in Northern Kurdistan - where, yes, there's a certain semblance of normality because it hasn't been affected by the secular violence of the rest of the country. But Baghdad, after all, is the capital of this country. It's where most people live. It is the most divided. So are all the provinces surrounding it.
CHADWICK: You reported from Iraq as long ago as 1970. This is before Saddam Hussein had even taken over. Do you see people there? Are you able to see any Iraqi to kind of judge, looking in the eyes of the people, how they seem?
JENKINS: You know, that's - it's hard. I mean, you see Iraqis, you don't see the whole Iraqi populous. There are no polls that are taken here, but just this morning, we met with a senior Shia cleric who's - basically has, he's one of the prayer leaders at one of the Baghdad mosques, and a man whose trying to lead his Shia followers into practicing peace and trying to find reconciliation. He's a moderate. And after a long conversation with him - he actually had been jailed by Saddam Hussein. He was forced into exile by Saddam Hussein, and at the end of the conversation, asked well, what would you think if you had to go back to Saddam Hussein's days here? And he said he'd rather see Iraq under Saddam Hussein than the way it is now. Because there was a certain stability, a certain economic viability. Things worked. People could get around. If you weren't in politics, you could exist under that terrible dictatorship. And people here, increasingly - you're finding people saying as terrible as that was, this is worse.
CHADWICK: This is the kind of person who the Americans would say, this is the hope of future of Iraq, this kind of person. And you're reporting to us that this person said Saddam Hussein was better?
JENKINS: Yes. And this cleric in his robes and everything else also carries a gun.
CHADWICK: Loren Jenkins, NPR's Senior Foreign Editor, in Baghdad this week. Loren, thank you.
JENKINS: Thank you, Alex.
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