The Myth: Iraqis, prior to occupation, lived in little beige tents set up on the sides of little dirt roads all over Baghdad. The men and boys would ride to school on their camels, donkeys and goats. These schools were larger versions of the home units and for every 100 students, there was one turban-wearing teacher who taught the boys rudimentary math (to count the flock) and reading. Girls and women sat at home, in black burkas, making bread and taking care of 10-12 children.
The Truth: Iraqis lived in houses with running water and electricity. Thousands of them own computers. Millions own VCRs and VCDs. Iraq has sophisticated bridges, recreational centers, clubs, restaurants, shops, universities, schools, etc. Iraqis love fast cars (especially German cars) and the Tigris is full of little motor boats that are used for everything from fishing to water-skiing.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that most people choose to ignore the little prefix ‘re’ in the words ‘rebuild’ and ‘reconstruct’. For your information, ‘re’ is of Latin origin and generally means ‘again’ or ‘anew’.
In other words- there was something there in the first place. We have hundreds of bridges. We have one of the most sophisticated network of highways in the region: you can get from Busrah, in the south, to Mosul, in the north, without once having to travel upon those little, dusty, dirt roads they show you on Fox News. We had a communications system so advanced, it took the Coalition of the Willing 3 rounds of bombing, on 3 separate nights, to damage the Ma’moun Communications Tower and silence our telephones.
Yesterday, I read how it was going to take up to $90 billion to rebuild Iraq. Bremer was shooting out numbers about how much it was going to cost to replace buildings and bridges and electricity, etc.
Listen to this little anecdote. One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad- we’ll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who’ll listen.
As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.
Let’s pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pretend he hasn’t been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pretend he didn’t work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let’s pretend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated- let’s pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.
A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around- brace yourselves- $50,000,000 !!
Something you should know about Iraq: we have over 130,000 engineers. More than half of these engineers are structural engineers and architects. Thousands of them were trained outside of Iraq in Germany, Japan, America, Britain and other countries. Thousands of others worked with some of the foreign companies that built various bridges, buildings and highways in Iraq. The majority of them are more than proficient- some of them are brilliant.
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