Mishkat Al Moumin | January 1st, 2012 | True Stories About Security | 16 Comments »
Many Americans ask this question, “If Saddam was so bad, and we liberated you from his brutal regime, why are you killing our soldiers?”
The answer to this difficult question is rooted in issues surrounding basic services. These services include fresh water, electricity, sanitation services, and trash pickup.
The Iraqi people looked at the U.S. army as the agents of change. They thought they would get reliable electricity supplied without any interruption, running water, sanitation services, and daily trash pickup immediately following the fall of the regime. However, when these services were not provided  to the Iraqi people, they consequently saw the U.S. army as a negative force in Iraq.
Services have always been a factor in whether people are willing to support a change in regime. Prior to 1991, the Iraqi government provided the above-mentioned services with some consistency. However, after the first Gulf War (1990-1991), Iraq witnessed constant interruptions in the quality and consistency of these services. Electricity, which, before, was never subject to brown outs, was henceforth rationed and the population had to deal with large gaps of time without electricity. The temperature would reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the population had become dependent on cooling devices like air conditioning and fans. However, there was no electricity to run this equipment. There was only one area of the city that never lost power: the buildings directly used by Saddam’s regime and his close family members. Grievances (which had heretofore not been mentioned in public due to the brutally oppressive nature of his regime) began to infiltrate the public dialogue. One could hear passive criticisms of the regime, for example, “They enjoy the air conditioning while we suffer in the heat!”
Flash forward 10 years, after the U.S. had installed itself in the Green Zone—Saddam’s old palace—electricity is still provided there, while the locals continue to lack electricity. From their perspective, it was a bit of the same old story: a new regime, but same lack of services. The expectations, however, for U.S. capacity were much higher among the population, who saw the Americans as technologically accomplished. While the U.S. chose this site because of its location and barricades, it was not safe at all, as evidenced by the magnitude of rockets that hit the Green Zone daily. Moreover, the man on the street who might have accepted Saddam’s excuse that he lacked the spare parts to fix the power plants, would never accept that the Americans could not quickly and efficiently update and restore services. The logical course of this predicament, when we look at the continued lack of services, was towards conflict, not peace.
The expectations of Iraqis were simply not met. These expectations had much more to do with services and necessities than democratic ideals and elections, as Americans believed. As soon as it became apparent that the United States could not restore services, the Iraqi people lost their enthusiasm for the liberators and began to view them as occupiers.
The liberators are agents of change. They considered democracy a panacea for all problems. Thus, in 2003 the Coalition Forces believed that setting up a democratic government would result in a series of positive changes in the quality of life for the Iraqi people. However, electing popular people based on their religious belief or ethnic background does not constitute a government staff with the capacity for providing services. Clearly, in a post-conflict situation, democracy does not equate to providing daily services . The liberators failed to provide these services, and this resulted in the deterioration of the quality of daily life. Consequently, Iraqi people established a negative view of these agents of change.
Under Saddam’s regime, electricity was provided for four hours  and then interrupted for two hours. However, after the fall of the regime, electricity was provided for two hours and interrupted for four, then interrupted for six hours, then for eight hours, then for twelve, and sometimes days. In a climate where summer lasts for nine months with a temperature of more than 100 Fahrenheit, electricity is not a luxurious commodity. The question raised by many Iraqis was, how could Saddam’s regime, which lacked the technology possessed by the United States, restore services in two months after the first Gulf War, while the United States with all its technology could not? The answer for many Iraqi people was and still is that the Coalition Forces are the occupiers and they do not care. Many Iraqi people started to believe that the Coalition Forces are making their life worse in the name of establishing democracy. Thus, they swiftly lost their faith in the idea that the Coalition Forces were liberators and began to perceive them as occupiers. It follows that since they are the occupiers, then they need to be opposed and fought.
Different insurgency groups including the former Ba’ath members utilized the argument of lacking services to recruit civilians. By reflecting on their capability of restoring services, the Ba’athists portrayed themselves as nationalists who worked in the country, rather than the vehicle of an oppressive regime. Many civilians believed them and still do. Thus, as services continued to deteriorate, opposition to the liberators and the change they brought grew stronger, and it took a violent form.
Beyond internal insurgency groups such as the Ba’ath regime, foreign insurgency groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq also recruited among populations that lacked services. Al-Qaeda portrayed lacking services as a direct assault towards the true Muslim community by a U.S.-backed government. For example, 60% of the population of Anbar Province, the biggest Sunni province, still lacks access to safe drinking water. Additionally, Sunni communities viewed failing to provide services by a Shiite dominated government as a direct assault.
While it is difficult to imagine a Shiite insurgency against a Shiite dominated government, Iraq witnessed as early as June 2003 a Shiite insurgency led by Moqtada Al Sadr. Sadr City the stronghold of Moqtada Al Sadr lacks all services including access to safe drinking water, electricity, and sanitation services. Sadr portrayed the U.S. backed Shiite central government as discriminatory government against Shiite peasants in Sadr City, which was equivalent to Saddam’s position towards Sadr City. (Saddam’s regime purposefully deprived Sadr City from services). As such, citizens were told this government should be opposed, as should those who backed it. The lack of service has become a hefty recruiting tactic and brought the different insurgency fractions together to fight the U.S. Coalition Forces, who came to be viewed as the occupiers.
 All the Americans and Iraqis I met or worked with were trying to help and wanted to provide services. However, there were some serious policy implications regarding how to provide these services. For example, here in the U.S., people receive their water bills in the mail in a timely manner. In Iraq there is not a reliable mailing system. Thus, an employee from the water services would come read the meter and then would leave the bill. These employees were afraid to do their job, because of security issues. Thus, the service agency lacked resources. All the network including water, electricity, and sewage were outdated. I collected these policy concerns and developed a course about how best to address them titled: “Environmental Challenges in Post-Conflict Countries”.
 In March of 2010, I attended a seminar at the United States Institute of Peace, and I asked participants to close their eyes and imagine themselves in a conflicting zone where a cease fire had just been announced. What option of these three would they would need the most? A- Water, B- Democracy, C- Government. All participants (50 or more) chose water. Then, I asked to imagine themselves sitting in a donor conference after the announcement of a cease fire. Which option would they go for? Some said democracy, and some said government.
 I was living in Baghdad back then. However, I knew that the rest of the provinces received less electricity than Baghdad. For example, in Basra, electricity was provided for two hours and interrupted for four hours. Lack of electricity resulted in increasing the demand for housing in Baghdad. Many Iraqis tried to sell their houses and relocate to Baghdad. However, the regime did not allow it. For more updated information on the implications of providing electricity to Basra, please review Story #9.