Sunday, May 30, 2004

Mi'dan and democracy

Nothing much has been going on in Basrah, except of course steam
emanating from the ground (I swear) and humidity that is bringing every unfortunate asthmatic in the province to our hospital. There is a shortage of nebulizers though, and physicians have to decide which patients are in most need for them, this of course tends to make other patients a bit aggressive. I was skulking around the emergency hall last night and I saw an angry patient who was just leaving, red in the face, shaking his fist in fury, shouting that he would return and shoot every last @#%$ doctor in the hospital. The FPS guards laughed the whole thing off while puffing at their cigarettes. I suppose it would help if I tried to convince him (if he returns) that I'm actually a mere dentist, and that I'm only unfortunate enough to live here?

This is not to give the impression that everything is dandy at the primary health care clinic where I work. We've been having a shortage of antibiotic pills for almost a week now. Well not quite a shortage, you see my boss has decided to use the weekly medications ration only in the afternoon shifts. It works this way, at Iraqi primary health care clinics there is a system called ta'meen sihi (Health Insurance) which is carried out during the afternoon shifts, according to this system doctors get a fixed share from each treatment ticket, and the more patients they get in the afternoon, the more money goes down in their pockets. And since prescriptions in the morning shift bring them nothing (they're free), they have made a habit of referring
patients to the afternoon shift. Everyone is happy, except of course me since I only work morning shifts and have to do my best to convince patients to purchase their medication from outside pharmacies which are much more expensive and a burden to most villagers. A couple of days ago, when it started to get a bit embarrassing I considered reporting my boss' actions to the Basrah Health Directorate since she has been acting rather nasty with me lately, but Jabbar the old medical aide advised me not to, since corruption goes as high up in the hierarchy to the Health Director himself, and my boss would be told about it and
thus creating endless trouble for me. Sometimes I feel that these
leftovers from the former system will never disappear even though
everyone gets fair salaries now.

Banditry has somewhat ceased over the last few days. A top member of SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) was carjacked close to Al-Dayr north of Basrah, and he was reported to be injured by the bandits. A force from Faylaq Badr (Badr Corps, SCIRI's armed wing) entered the town hours later and forcefully deported all the Mi'dan residents. It's a bit ironic that SCIRI which has a history of fighting the former regime's forces from the marsh areas to defend the Mi'dan tribes from forced deportation are now doing the same thing. Shortly afterwards, Badr members started patrolling the main road between Basrah and Amarrah with the help of IP in the area and with the British turning a blind eye to it all (since they couldn't deal with the bandits themselves). There were a couple of incidents in which Badr used mortars last Thursday to force the Mi'dan to leave a few villages near Qurna and Al-I'zair. No one is complaining as long as it keeps the road safe. All attempts to convince the Mi'dan to resettle in their original villages in the marsh areas have failed, I guess they found that banditry and carjacking is a much more profitable
business. A Kurdish smuggler at one of the villages was arrested. His job was to smuggle stolen vehicles to the Kurdish region where new Kurdish registration plates would be issued for them and later sold. This was quite common, in fact most of the former government's looted vehicles ended up one way or another in the Kurdish region.

Also another incident involving Mi'dan. Someone was attacked and carjacked at Tannumah, across the river from Basrah city. He was a Hasawi. Hasawiyah are a wealthy and influential Shia sect (not a tribe) in the Basrah governorate. Their origins are from the Ahsaa region in northeastern Saudi Arabia. They are a bit different from other Iraqi Shia being somewhat closer to the Sunni sect. Their leader in Basrah, Sayyid Ahmed Al-Musawi heard about the incident and ordered a group of armed Hasawiyah to attack the Mi'dan Garamsha and Shaghamba tribes. When they crossed the bridge over Shatt Al-Arab, British troops forced them to turn around but they took a side road through Tannumah and found that the Mi'dan had fled from the villages leaving their women and children. Some clerics tried to mediate and the Hasawiyah left them a warning that next time they would return and burn the villages on their inhabitants.


We had an interesting meeting at the clinic a few days ago. The
director asked all employees to her room where we were politely asked to be seated by two people who mentioned that they were from the governorate office, but I suspect they work for the CPA. A middle-aged woman in Hijab and a tall skinny fellow wearing thick glasses. They were supposed to gather information and our opinions on several issues regarding the future Iraqi government, they were touring hospitals, schools, and clinics to meet with people. I don't know why but the situation felt rather awkward and funny, apparently I wasn't the only one because I noticed that everyone else was smiling. They asked us a few questions about democracy, federalism, the form of the government, etc. I also felt that the two people who were lecturing us were in bad
need themselves for someone to lecture and explain a couple of things to them. Toward the end of the meeting, the woman in Hijab progressed more and more into fiery talk until it was all reduced to recycled common rhetoric, that was when I started yawning occasionally glancing at my watch. As soon as I heard her mention "Sayyid Sistani (Allah preserve him)", I began to think that discussion was futile. It was nice however to watch the other employees talk, the discussion went something like this:

"How do you see the future of Iraq?" the woman asked us.
"There's no use in anything" our biologist whined morbidly, "Iraqis don't deserve a democracy. We need a firm ruler to prevent chaos, anything else is useless".
"Yes, a firm and just leader" the registrar added, "We don't want any new mass graves".
"So you are already quite hopeless?" the woman asked them.
My boss was having a hard time trying to conceal her giggles. I was grinning from ear to ear as well.
"Excuse me, but I think what Iraq needs at the moment is martial laws" ,this was one of my colleagues. "Every nation implements martial laws at such times, it might sound violent at first, but there have to be some firm steps taken to put an end to the lawlessness and anarchy".
"But don't you think some innocents would also be caught up in it?" the man in glasses asked her.
"Not quite.. " a medical aide chimed in. "When you catch someone guilty like a looter or a bandit I say HANG HIM on the spot!". The evident glee in which he pronounced the words 'hang him' made me a bit uneasy.
"So what do you think about federalism?"
"No federalism", "No no", "Of course not" seemed to echo from all around the room.
"Do you understand what federalism is?" the fellow in glasses asked them, "Do you think it's a ploy to divide Iraq?" he offered (it looked like that was what he thought).
"Yes yes", the others replied in unison.
This was where I had to enter the discussion. "Do you actually believe the Kurds are going to agree to anything less than federalism?", everyone remained silent. "I mean they have been virtually independent for 13 years. Why would they give that up?". Some of them nodded in agreement.
"Yes, but Dr., they just want to seperate from Iraq" the medical aide said.
"They didn't say so, even though they have that right. The Kurdish leaders have stated on many occasions that they aren't interested in seperation, they just don't want to be second class citizens". This seemed to have convinced them and they let it go at that.
"So what do you think about the Transitional Adminstrative Law? Is it appropriate for the new Iraq? Has anyone read it?".
No one had read it of course. I gave them a brief explanation about the rights and freedoms granted by the document, they seemed impressed but they objected to the article stating that two thirds of the population of any three governorates could annul the permanent constitution. Some heated discussion followed and we agreed in the end that the law was temporary and could be modified by a future sovereign government and that overall it was a very progressive constitution, while keeping in
mind that constitutions are merely ink on paper and that Iraq had some good constitutions in the past, but that proper enforcement of the constitution was the most important issue.