Traffic movement from Jordan to Baghdad was equally unique. It was not moving in a line (one vehicle after another) but four-five vehicles were moving side-by-side on the four-lane express way. People are scared as there is no law and order in the war-ravaged country.
People are also afraid of the deserters of the army and para-military forces of the erstwhile Saddam regime. Every army personnel and para-military forces of Saddams disbanded military force is equipped with sophisticated weapons. These people are now spread across the country. They do not have any regular source of income. So, for their survival they are resorting to looting. Their numbers are estimated to be around 20 lakh. This includes the 4 lakh presidential guards of the erstwhile Saddam regime and army regulars and over half-a-million banned Baath Party members.
But so far, the American army has not been able to maintain law and order in the war-torn country.
Flag marches are on. But crimes take place just after they cross the site. I recall an event: A restaurant behind the house where I was staying was being looted. The American army was conducting the flag march from the front side of my house. I approached them and said a restaurant was being looted behind my house and they must do something about it. The head of the army convoy said, I just cant do anything. We have orders to shoot at only those who fire on us. Though the American and European military police have arrived and are reportedly training the local police, there is no visible impact of this.
Most of the banks too are plundered and are non-operational. In such an overall situation, life and business is not safe even within the cities. Snatching of goods, robbery and kidnapping for ransom are flourishing.
The political situation within the country is still grim. Over a dozen political parties have come into force. Some of them were banned during the Saddam regime. They have captured all the public buildings (earlier centres of ruling parties and their associates) and their flags are seen everywhere. They have sectarian interests. They come from various groups, including Communists, Kurdish groups, and groups of Shiias, Sunnies, Assyrians, Armenians, besides the tribal groups.
On the trade front, at present, neither customs duty nor passport control exist at any border point. There is absolutely free trade.
The communication system is also not working. People are in touch through satellite phones. One minute on a sat phone will cost $3 and one has to come out of home under the open sky to receive or call people.
The dollar is almost the basic currency. Coke can crates are available for $10 imported from Kuwait, vegetable and fruits are coming in from Turkey and Iran.
Not a single company, which have won contracts has started work in Iraq. It is rather impossible to carry on work under threat of life and property. Only NGOs and agencies like the UN and WHO are working on the ground.
The Iraqi administrative set up is being revived by the Americans. The administration is being carried out from the Old Palace of Saddam. The palace was built in the 1950s by General Qasim and from 1979 to the Gulf War-I was occupied by Saddam. It was abandoned by Saddam after the Gulf War-I.
A government structure with important ministries has been created. The ministries are headed by two persons: one a bureaucrat of Iraqi nationality and the other is an American. Ministers are appointed from amongst the local staff of respective ministries who have returned to work. They are of the director general level. In fact, the staff have received their monthly salary of just $20. This shows how the Americans have degraded a great civilisation. The people are very angry.
Southern Iraq, under occupation of the British army including Basra is relatively calm as the Britishers are considered a better lot by the local population as compared to the Americans. The local people hate Americans and they have threatened America for making any attempt to take even a drop of its oil.
I will not use the term reconstruction as the damage has been done at the institutional level and not just at a structural level. The re-building process will require about $500 billion over 7-10 years.
Iraq is a great country and it will be revived to its past glory. I am hopeful. That is why we have kept our company office at Baghdad operative with our general manager Kamal Raj Purohit posted there. We have very close links with local people. Today, we are helping them by holding langar and provide them electricity through our 500 kva generators. We must help them in their difficult times.
(The author is chairman, Indo-Iraq joint business council, and chairman of PCP International. He has just returned from Baghdad, where he was from May 1-11)
(As told to Rajeev Jayaswal)