Det går ikke an å forstå Irak på vanlige, normale premisser. Derfor er det journalister med visse litterære evner som får frem det nærmest psykotiske i dagens situasjon, i overgangen mellom et 25-årig diktatur og før noe nytt er bygd opp.

New York Times-journalisten Dexter Filkins hadde en utrolig fin artikkel i helgen, som sto i Tribune mandag.

A Correspondent in Iraq: Scenes of Hope and Dread

Hvordan er det der nede? Det går ikke an å beskrive for det skifter hele tiden, sier Filkins. Du blir preget av enkelthendelser, og stemningsskifter.

Alle spør seg om USA vil lykkes eller mislykkes i Irak. Filkins bedriver hva han kaller «pedestrian science», og den høres mer vettug ut enn mye av ekspertkommentarene.

Often it is a single moment, sometimes quite a small one, that swings the daily prediction this way or that. One of the city’s overheated, chaotic traffic jams, with the trucks crawling over the sidewalks? Democracy will never take hold here, ever. A wave and a smile and a «Hey, Mistah!» from a 12-year-old Iraqi boy? Maybe the Americans will pull this off.

Filkins har valgt ut tre tidskapsuler for å illustrere hva Irak handler om:

Han krysset grensen til Irak fra sør 21. mars 2003, ved Safwan. Han trodde det ville ligne på Afghanistan;

In Safwan, I encountered not so much a celebration as a lunatic asylum, an outpouring of more emotions than I could fathom: some people cheered, others cried. One woman, her son murdered by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen, wept and cheered at once: lamenting her past, praising her deliverance, fearing her future.

«Should I be afraid?» the woman, 68-year-old Zahra Khafi asked, mumbling and wiping her eyes. «Is Saddam coming back?»

In Talaqan, Afghanistan, the crowds had poured into the streets, clapping and waving. In Safwan, many men simply stood about, wary-eyed and slack-jawed. One bookish-looking man ran up and begged me to save him from the secret police; the man he pointed to, a school principal, laughed, waved a hand and walked away. The crowd gave a nervous laugh; I was not sure for whom.

All the way to Baghdad, there were scenes like this: emotions more complicated than we were ready for, naked and on display. We did not know then, as we are only beginning to understand now, how badly damaged this country had been.

Mer galehus. Det var i september. Filkins hadde vært i Ramadi, og var på vei tilbake til Bagdad, da de støtte på en amerikansk kolonne som hadde falt i bakhold.

On the way back to Baghdad, the traffic came to a halt near a town called Habbaniya. Up ahead, a five-ton American military truck burned in the road, struck, no doubt, by one of the homemade bombs that only then were becoming a common menace. An American soldier lay in the road, his clothing torn and soaked with blood.

«Death to America!» a crowd of Iraqis cried, some holding up the bloody shreds of an American uniform. «God is great! The American Army will collapse here in Iraq!»

I looked at the crowd that had gathered: There were farmers and shopkeepers, parents with children. A way back, four Iraqi police officers sat in their car, smoking cigarettes.

When an American tank began spraying a field with heavy machine-gun fire, an Iraqi man walked up to me and shouted: «Look at what the Americans are doing to the Iraqi people! Look at what they are doing!»

I muttered an answer, something to the effect that someone had killed an American soldier, and I laced my words with as much profanity as I could muster. My translator told me to hold my tongue.

Just then, the tank rumbled past, the smoldering truck in tow. An American crewman trained his turret-mounted machine gun on the crowd, looking angry and afraid, clenching his teeth.

Dette handler om den psykiske ødeleggelsen som også George Packer beskrev i sitt lange essay fra Bagdad. Noe er gått galt i hodene på mange irakere, og hvis USA trakk seg ut er det mulig at folk ville rive hverandre i filler. Islamistene og baathistene spiller selvfølgelig på denne galskapen. Det blir litt som i Saudi-Arabia der en meningsmåling viser at nesten halvparten er tilhenger av Osama bin Ladens budskap, men de liker ikke metodene hans når de rammer Saudi-Arabia.

Det siste tidsbildet er møtet med Iraks finansminister. Han er representant for den irakiske eliten, som er velutdannet, kompetente, og kultiverte. Opprørerne har utryddet dem i hundrevis. Likevel stiller folk opp, som Allawi, vel vitende om hvilken risk de løper.

Hvilken mangel på respekt, hvilken kynisme når vestlige journalister i fleng omtaler ham som USAs og CIAs mann, en stråmann. Det er null sympati, hverken med dem personlig eller det irakiske folk. Det har ofte slått meg; hva tenker disse personene om journalistene som intervjuer dem? De er altfor høflige til å vise reaksjoner.

Finansministeren heter Adel Abdul Mahdi. Han har en bondegård i Frankrike og trengte slett ikke sette livet på spill. Volden? Ja, den er som ventet.

Over dinner, it seemed pointless to ask why Mr. Mahdi, a brilliant, funny man with two master’s degrees and a farmhouse in France, would put himself at such horrible risk. For Mr. Mahdi, like so many other Iraqi political leaders, this wave of Iraqi violence is merely a continuation of what they had already known, politics as usual.

Mr. Mahdi, a Shiite politician, was tortured by Mr. Hussein’s men, but prefers not to go into details. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser, can recount how, in his own case, Mr. Hussein’s thugs folded him up into a ball, hung him from the ceiling and twirled him around for hours on end. Mr. Bremer, in a recent interview, described how at a dinner for members of the Iraqi Governing Council, a woman seated next to him had begun to tell the story of her murdered brother, killed by Mr. Hussein’s men many years ago. Before she could finish she had begun to weep.

I asked Mr. Mahdi if it had all been worth it: the invasion, the guerrilla war, the car bombings, the assassinations. He gave a surprising answer.

«We were expecting much worse than this,» said Mr. Mahdi, who does not discount the possibility that Iraq could slide into civil war. «Much worse.»

«We never imagined this would be easy,» he said. «We were telling the Americans, you will have a mess. It is mostly the psychological situation. The suffering.»

In a country with so much death and anarchy, Mr. Mahdi’s perspective seemed unusual at first, but on reflection, as I left his house, it struck me that the country he described was not unlike the one I found in Safwan, 15 months ago.

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