Obama Should Worry About Iraqi Shoes, Too

When Iraq’s violence escalates, President Obama better not be caught on his heels when he’s blamed for losing Bush’s “win.”

By Ben Lando
Posted by Bulalat

After four hours stuck in Baghdad traffic, I was close enough to get out of the car and walk to my hotel. I’m sure it was raw sewage I stepped in, but I didn’t ask; ignorance is bliss, I figured, or every time I take my shoes off I’ll think of what’s on the bottom.

The drive from an interview in Monsour district back to my hotel just outside the Green Zone should have taken 45 minutes, tops.

But it coincided exactly with President Bush’s farewell invasion of Baghdad, and the send-off by 29-year-old Baghdadiyah TV journalist Muntathar al-Zaidi.

“This is a goodbye kiss, you dog,” al-Zaidi yelled and tossed his shoes at Bush, McClatchy Newspapers reports. “Killer of Iraqis, killer of children.”

As soon as my drivers and I were routed from the main highway to side streets by U.S. troops, we knew something was up. Traffic was intense every direction we took; the boys selling candy car-to-car must have made out well.

Frustration grew as the sun went down. Every route was blocked by U.S. troops. Bush made an unnecessary visit to Baghdad and put an American’s life in danger, I thought, and Baghdadis’ lives are frozen until he leaves the country for good.

Iraqis, getting impatient, start each day dressing one shoe at a time. A draft report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, leaked to the New York Times and ProPublica this week, ahead of its January scheduled release, pans nearly the entirety of U.S. reconstruction efforts here.

Stuart Bowen, the IG, recounts his first tour of the Coalition Provisional Authority: “What I saw was troubling: large amounts of cash moving quickly out the door. Later that same day, walking the halls of the palace, I overheard someone say: ‘We can’t do that anymore. There is a new inspector general here.’ These red flags were the first signs that the oversight mission the Congress had assigned my office would be extraordinarily challenging.”

SIGIR’s responsibility was to watchdog nearly $50 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars dedicated here by Congress.

“Over the past five years, this sea of taxpayer dollars flowed to a wide spectrum of initiatives, ranging from training Iraq’s army and police to building big electrical, oil and water projects; from supporting democracy-building efforts like elections to strengthening provincial councils’ budget execution; and from funding rule-of-law reforms to ensuring that Iraq sustains what the U.S. program provided,” the SIGIR report said.

“Some of the initiatives succeeded, but, as this report explains, many did not. … beyond the security issue stands another compelling and unavoidable answer: the U.S government was not adequately prepared to carry out the reconstruction mission it took on in mid-2003.”

So, parallel to, or because of, the continued insecurity, there is a lack of services such as electricity, clean water and fuel — not to mention a deficit of human-rights protection for women and minorities, according to a new U.N. report on human rights in Iraq — it’s not difficult to understand why a journalist threw shoes at the face of this situation.

Some here debated whether he’d be better off using his power as a journalist to explain why Bush is “a dog” — likely, since he has not been released from custody following a painful arrest. Others said it was plain inappropriate to embarrass the prime minister and disrespect a guest in a way so offensive in Arab culture, let alone committing a crime of assault; a rally in the Baghdad neighborhood Sadr City the day after called for the immediate release of al-Zaidi, an overnight hero of the Iraqi street and the Arab world.

No one I’ve spoken to, or overheard, has criticized the motivation of the reporter, who was shell-shocked covering the bombing of Sadr City this year (and was kidnapped last year).

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