Reporter's Notebook: Abbas Mehdi
A helmeted Abbas Mehdi with his South African security guards in Baghdad (Photo courtesy Abbas Mehdi)
As St. Cloud State sociology professor Abbas Mehdi moved into his Green Zone office last year--the beginning of his six months of service in a cabinet-level position in the Iraqi Government, General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker were preparing for testimony before congress and a leaked U.S. Embassy report was bouncing around the internet, first obtained and published by The Nation.
The draft--over 70 pages long--reviews the work (or attempted work) of the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI), an independent Iraqi institution, and other anticorruption agencies within the Iraqi government. Labeled "SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED/Not for distribution to personnel outside of the US Embassy in Baghdad," the study details a situation in which there is little, if any, prosecution of government theft and sleaze. Moreover, it concludes that corruption is "the norm in many ministries."
The report depicts the Iraqi government as riddled with corruption and criminals--and beyond the reach of anticorruption investigators. It also maintains that the extensive corruption within the Iraqi government has strategic consequences by decreasing public support for the U.S.-backed government and by providing a source of funding for Iraqi insurgents and militias.
"Of course I had heard about the corruption," Mehdi told me in his office at St. Cloud State. "But really, I had no idea."
Mehdi was in Iraq to imagine and implement Iraq's shift from a public sector economy to one dominated by the private sector. It was a tall order and after six months he resigned. At his Minnetonka house, he says it was all too much--it was taking a toll on his health. Still, he thinks constantly about going back.
In our conversations, Mehdi always returned to Iraq's critical infrastructure--all but disintegrated. Whatever frustration he voiced--with the Iraqis or the Americans--ended with: "People are dying!"
Iraq's hospitals come up often with Mehdi. Already hurting after a decade of international trade sanctions that blocked the delivery of critical medical equipment and medicines, the post-invasion looting was a death knell for Iraq's health care system. There have been few portrayals of the situation in Iraq's hospitals less filtered than a short film shot by a doctor at Baghdad's Al-Yarmouk Hospital. It's a well done piece and be warned, it is not easy to watch.
Much of what haunts Mehdi now that he is back home, he says, is having seen the situation for himself--the bad and the good. In that vein, I've gathered a few more clips, each shot by Iraqis in Iraq.
The four short pieces below are part of a documentary project called Hometown Baghdad.
In the first video, a college-age Iraqi man films his brother talking about a traumatizing event in the street. In the second, young Iraqis talk about dating in wartime Iraq. The third video focuses on the endless blackouts in Iraq and the final installment shows the preparation for the departure of a friend--one of millions of Iraqis to flee the conflict.
"Mentally fucked up..."
Kiss and Tell