Steven Vincent writes an interesting article on the situation in Basra in National Review Online:
…Basra’s police force isn’t the only example of the social and psychological dysfunctionalities that plague this city of 1.5 million residents. Even as brave and dedicated people here begin to reconstruct their lives in the face of daunting problems “” terrorism, a lack of investment funds, corruption, and a political process dominated by incompetent religious parties “” others seem just as determined to, well, totally screw things up.
Take “Emergency 115.” Recently, the city, with British assistance, instituted a “911”-style system for residents to dial in case of need. Humanely enough, the Brits designed 115 with a provision that allows Basrans to contact help even if they lack SIM cards in their mobile phones. (Land-lines are few and unreliable, so people live by their cells, which require the constant purchase of expensive “scratch” cards to replenish their minutes.) “We created 115 so the call is free,” a British officer who supervises the program told me.
Gang atfa gley, Robert Burns might say. For a certain segment of Basra’s population discovered the hilarity of making bogus emergency calls. To add to the fun, they remove their SIM cards and remain on the line for hours, tying up the system and preventing people with real crises from getting assistance. According to the British officer, “Only about 5 percent of people contacting 115 call actually need help.”…
Then there’s garbage: Basra is choking in it, from shredded plastic bags ensnared on coils of barbed wire to archipelagos of rotting offal floating in the city’s canals. A few months back, the Brits “” yes, them again “” initiated a program that would pay trash collectors to cart waste material to a landfill in the desert. The plan seemed to work: Contractors brought truckloads of trash to the site, earning dinars in return. But the city seemed no cleaner. As the Brits soon discovered, contractors were loading up their vehicles with garbage from already-existing piles, located on the edge of town or smoldering in the city center. By the time the British rejiggered the program to compel contractors to direct their attention to city streets, the funding for the project disappeared, a victim of canceled plans, bureaucratic reorientation, or “” more likely, locals say “” theft…
“Liberation brought us freedom of the press,” an Iraqi journalist once told me. “And as long as you don’t probe into matters like civic corruption, organized crime, or the religious parties, you’re free not to be killed.”
And that’s the way it is. For every step responsible Basrans move forward “” a gradually improving security situation, glimmers of economic development, some political leaders who are beginning to understand they must provide benefits for their constituents “” irresponsible, ignorant, and frequently violent elements drag the city backwards. A race, or competition, exists between the forces of enlightened synergy and progress and traumatized entropy and decay. Basra teeters between the two, its future up in the air. And with Basra, so goes the rest of Iraq.