August 07, 2003

HERE'S AN INTERESTING, and generally positive firsthand report from Iraq:

Over the course of the next few days, we conducted daily patrols around the city, locating schools and inspecting them. Despite the fact that looting and destruction had even taken place at the primary schools, it looked good. Teachers were going through neighborhoods on foot making calls to get students to come in and help repair the damage that had been done to their schools. Some were holding impromptu classes already, though not 'officially'. Every teacher we met was very happy to see us. They expressed hope that we would help stabilize the city, and they were noticing it getting better as the days progressed. They were also surprised to see U.S. forces specifically concerned with education. The third day we were on patrol, we got lucky. A teacher we encountered told us that even though the administrative staff of the education department had been burned out of their offices, they were meeting that day at a nearby kindergarten to discuss the prospect of restarting classes and giving exams. We asked the teacher to lead us to the meeting place.

We arrived at the girl's kindergarten school where the administrators were located, and they too were extremely happy to see us. They invited us into their meeting and explained their situation. They were determined not to let the war stop education for their children. They wanted to immediately restart classes as best they could, and develop a new curriculum that was free of mandatory Ba'athist doctrine (for example, every children's textbook had a photo of Saddam on the front page). There were obstacles to this. Many schools were in dire need of repair and reconstruction. Many were looted to the point that even the toilets had been ripped from the floors (when the majority of a society has been so deprived by their government for so long, this is what happens). Another problem was that these administrators did not know how to take charge of things on their own. The government had been so centralized that everything came from Baghdad. Begin classes this day; give this exam on this day, etc. Since Baghdad was "out of commission" so to speak, no one knew where to start. The only leadership that they recognized was the U.S and Coalition forces. Realizing where they were coming from, I explained that we, the U.S. forces in Mosul, held education as a top priority. Essentially, I gave them permission to go ahead and start classes. The next question was "What day"? We tentatively scheduled a date for two weeks ahead. This would give us time to assess the school repair situation, and get the message out by radio and leaflet to students that school was going to restart. It was a poignant moment, meeting with this group of educators in an overcrowded room in a city that was still a combat zone, to ensure that their children would continue their education. Their determination, and their gratitude to the United States for removing Saddam, was humbling. . . .

Usually things are very good. We are helping people that need it, and they are very happy that we are here. We still do not have a date to return home. I miss my girlfriend, my band, and my friends. But I know that what we are doing here is positive, and that when we leave, we can do so knowing that we came with an important mission, and helped improve the lives and the future for many thousands of people.

It's from the SuicideGirls website, interestingly enough, and the author plays bass in a punk rock band in civilian life. There's much more, and you should read it all.