'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, August 20th, 2010
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Guests: Richard Engel, Charles Ray, Bradley May
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: The combat mission in Iraq is over. Combat troops are out. As of the end of this month, Operation Iraqi Freedom officially ends and a new mission here begins, Operation Iraqi Freedom, OIF.
I keep remembering since I‘ve been here that old urban myth, at least I think it was about an urban myth, about the original name for the war here being proposed as Operation Iraqi Liberation. That, of course, was a problem because if it was Operation Iraqi Liberation instead of wearing OIF insignia, everyone in the military would be wearing patches that said OIL on them. OIL—and that, of course, would be awkward.
When George W. Bush‘s father invaded Iraq in 1991, Saddam set the oil fields on fire. They were ready for that this time around when Bush the son invaded but it didn‘t happen—at least not to the same extent. Oil still accounts for 95 percent of Iraq‘s income. Iraq is sitting on the world‘s second largest oil reserves.
But for a country that is afloat on a sea of oil, a sea of energy, the defining feature of life here—at least at this time of year—is a lack of power, a lack of electricity.
Summer time in Iraq is miserable. This year, the holy month of fasting, in which you don‘t drink even water during the day, is falling during August, when the days are long and it‘s 120 degrees not just at noon but often all day long. You get 15 minutes of electricity here, five minutes of electricity there. Having access to a generator and the diesel to power it, to power a fan, to power an air conditioner if you‘re lucky—that‘s the difference between living in hell and living in purgatory. As an American visiting here for the first time at the end of this war, the magnitude of what we paid for and did here under the flag of the United States of America is staggering.
As Americans have been pouring out of here for the past year, you can see the huge Godzilla footprint here that the American presence has left behind. Yes, it‘s bases and checkpoints and the whole Green Zone and all that, but it‘s also the fact that we took over their country. We deposed their leadership. We threw them into civil war and we are now trying to vaguely have them hold it together sort of while we get out.
The history of Iraq for the last generation is Saddam taking power, a decade of the war with Iran where we took Iraq‘s side, then the first American war. Then, a decade of sanctions, then the second American war toppling Saddam, presiding over—presiding over a civil war, and now, there‘s us leaving.
After all of that—good luck. Hope it all works out for you guys.
It makes sense that the combat mission is ending. Frankly, since U.S. forces were pulled out of Iraqi cities last year, the transition to a post-combat mission based on training and assisting and a lot of packing up and leaving, that transition has been well under way for a long time. But the post-combat mission is to try and make it as right here as we can for as long as we can for as long as we can sustain the effort.
The training and assistance mission is not going to get as much attention as a war effort. We all understand that. But it‘s what Americans are doing here now and they‘re doing it in harm‘s way as our post-war “make it right” effort. And that post-war “make it right” effort is complicated and it is fascinating.
MADDOW: This is the Tigris. And this river is—runs right through the center of Baghdad. In fact, the Green Zone is separated from the rest of Baghdad by the Tigris River. The 14th of July Bridge is just over here. You can see that over the top of those boats.
I mean, you don‘t think of Baghdad as being a river front city. It‘s not the most beautiful river in the world. It‘s dirty, it‘s black water conditions in terms of diving and everything, but this is right in the heart of it and this needs policing, too.
What are the divers training for? What‘s the security function of the divers?
COL. FADHEL, BAGHDAD RIVER PATROL (through translator): Well, the main purpose of the divers is to search and recover, especially during the summertime, a lot of people are swimming in the river and they drown. And so, we need divers to recover the bodies. Also back, in 2006, one of the terrorist activities is they blew up some of the bridges, so all the divers help to rebuild the bridges.
MADDOW: There is an issue. There is a history of police being used not just to protect the population in Iraq but also as people who get stuff done for people in power—police being essentially deployed for political means for powerful people. How do you—how do you defeat that other than by calling on people‘s individual valor and patriotism?
REAR ADMR. CHARLES RAY, DIRECTOR, IRAQ TRAINING AND ADVISORY MISSION:
But you have to start at the top and you work at the bottom as well. That is probably the most fundamental change in the Iraqi police forces. The duties of the police before 2003 were obviously not to secure and defend the Iraqi people. They were to secure and defend the government against the Iraqi people.
And we have a fundamental difference now. And then, although polls are what they are, it‘s very clear, over 70 percent of the Iraqi people have the confidence in their police forces. And when you talk about the federal police forces who just a few years ago when they were known as the national police—they were not the good guys.
RAY: And now, it‘s a fundamental change.
MADDOW: I will tell you, I don‘t want to embarrass anybody, but while we were out shooting in downtown Baghdad yesterday, we were close enough to a checkpoint that a federal police officer came over to check us out and see what we were doing. He was incredibly professional, incredibly to the point, had a totally rational exchange with him and it was all right for us to be out there. Ten minutes later, a traffic police officer came over and asked us for a bribe.
So, it‘s the federal police operating at a noticeable level of professionalism just in terms of my anecdotal experience since we‘ve been here.
RAY: And the Iraqi police understand that. I mean, corruption is a problem. But as you know, you‘ve traveled, corruption is a problem in a lot of places.
RAY: But I‘ll tell you what they‘re doing to address it. They‘ve got literally thousands of internal affairs, plain clothes officers that are able to move and address a problem.
MADDOW: We‘re here at the combat training center in Besmaya. It‘s about a 10-minute chopper ride in Blackhawk over here with General May, to come see this site.
Now, as of about mid-July, about 3,500 troops there with the 2nd Brigade 10th Mountain Division left here, and what remains here—U.S. is about roughly 290 -- between 250, 300 U.S. forces who are here at Besmaya, this forward operating base here within the Besmaya complex. There are about 750 Iraqi forces here.
So, what we‘re here to see is what the mission in Iraq looks like post-Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn—what training and assistance really looks like with the important issue of the weapons systems that Iraqis have bought. The Iraqi government has bought billions and billions of dollars worth of U.S. weapons systems.
Part of the continuing U.S. role is teaching them how to train on these weapons systems, how to maintain those weapons systems. And it raises some interesting questions about what the ongoing role is going to be for Americans who are still here.
In terms of what this training center is doing—obviously, you‘re training Iraqis to train other Iraqis. Right now, it‘s both U.S. uniformed military personnel, also contractors here. Is the idea that balance changes gradually over time to become a more all Iraqi operation?
BRIG. GEN. BRADLEY MAY, DIRECTOR, IRAQ TRAINING AND ADVISORY MISSION:
MADDOW: It does.
MAY: Yes. As you can see today, I mean, they‘re there. It‘s about contractors just continuing to provide the advice. You see the U.S. advisers that are mentoring as well because one of the things that‘s really important is: we understand the fact that in December of 2011, we‘re going to be leaving.
MAY: So, there‘s a real sense of urgency right now to be able to do as much as we can to help them. But again, it‘s amazing to see that the progress they‘re making and how quickly they‘re catching on.
MADDOW: Do you think that deadline does create a manifest sense of urgency—the fact that deadline is there makes stuff happen that wouldn‘t otherwise happen if it wasn‘t indefinite?
MAY: I don‘t know that I can really speculate on that because the fact of the matter is, our nature is just a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose to get things done. But really, the heart of the matter is seeing the Iraqis doing it and catching on quickly, because they understand what‘s at stake.
MAY: They understand—
MADDOW: They understand that you‘re leaving.
MAY: Well, they do. They do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make sure you‘re grabbing ahold of the hatch.
MADDOW: It‘s one of those things I feel like I make—I feel myself making a mistake and I can‘t stop myself. That‘s what it feels like.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you‘re ready to shot, ready to fire (INAUDIBLE).
MADDOW: When I‘m ready to fire, say again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You‘re ready to fire, keep your hands press on the commando‘s control handle. You keep the hand pressed and you‘ll use your right trigger finger to pull the trigger just like you did when you‘re shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You make sure that—you make sure that (INAUDIBLE) at the center of the (INAUDIBLE), roger?
MADDOW: Roger. I think it‘s good. I hold down the power and hit the trigger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s right. When you pull the trigger, now it‘s on the way.
MADDOW: Any time you‘re ready?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MADDOW: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good! Hey!
MAY: Well done. Congratulations.
MADDOW: Now, I realize that my bad aiming was being overridden by the ghost in the machine, but I really appreciate it. (INAUDIBLE).
MAY: You did well.
MADDOW: Yes, well, you know, it‘s a—it gives you an appreciation of the power of our arms. The power of this type of—
MAY: Well said.
MADDOW: Yes. This—
MAY: It‘s quite capable.
MADDOW: Having the power as a nation state to point this sort of thing at what you‘re ordered to point it at is awe inspiring.
MAY: Yes. Well, the hope is it‘s all for defensive purposes. I mean, that‘s really what we‘re trying to work with the Iraqis because they want that conventional capability, you know, to provide for the defense of their nations.
MADDOW: After he showed me the sights and sounds of Kabul and Afghanistan, I was convinced that NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, was the best of tour guides and the worst of tour guides. After now experiencing Richard‘s tour of Baghdad, I am more convinced of that than ever.
Wait until you see the part of the tour that involves the live fish on the street. Please stick around.
MADDOW: The issue of contractors is another thing that is sort of looms large when you‘re here because all the people who are doing—I mean, guarding the base is very nice—the base that I‘m staying at, very nice Ugandan people. I‘m learning all sorts of Ugandan like, hey, dude.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: They like this.
MADDOW: They love this.
MADDOW: That was the first advice that I got, when you meet—yes, that‘s going to help. But, I mean, the contractors and everywhere, it‘s not only about security contractors. It‘s about service contractors, too, and this huge economy that‘s been created. That‘s all hollowing out, too.
ENGEL: When U.S. troops go down to 50,000, there will be 72,000 contractors still here. So that is—I don‘t want to do math on television—but that is more than one contractor for every American soldier. So every soldier who is still here, and those soldiers by the way aren‘t combat troops, a lot of those soldiers are themselves support groups, there will be one contractor in the country backing u. That‘s just the DOD contractors.
ENGEL: Let along State Department contractors, Iraqi government contractors. Just DOD, 72,000.
MADDOW: Seventy-two thousand just for the Department of Defense.
ENGEL: And this drawdown is all being brought to you by KBR. They are the biggest contractor involved in the flat beds and moving vehicles and moving things to the south.
MADDOW: They‘re organizing the logistics of the withdrawal.
ENGEL: About 45 percent of all of the contracts right now are KBR contracts, and a lot of the withdrawal is being done through contractors. The military brings out some of its own stuff but most of it is being contracted out.
MADDOW: Here‘s one of the awkward things about the end of the war in Iraq. The war, we‘re hearing definitively, is ending. Everyone is trying to avoid another declaring “mission accomplished” moment since the Bush administration will forever wear that as a scarlet letter.
But the combat mission for U.S. troops in Iraq is ending. It is changing into a noncombat training and assistance mission. And after 16 months of up to 50,000 U.S. troops here for that noncombat mission, those troops have to go home, too.
But since I‘ve been here in Baghdad this week, everybody I‘ve been talking to keeps telling me about the enduring relationship we are building with our Iraqi partners, the long-term commitment we have to helping and to spending money in this country. How does that work if we‘ve promised to leave all together by a date certain?
Well, it‘s possible that Iraq will ask for U.S. troops to stay beyond that date. Who knows? I will enjoy that debate if and when the issue arises.
More immediately, though, our enduring commitment to Iraq means people other than troops being here now and planning to be here for the long haul. It means the State Department has a huge new gig here about which I dearly wish they had made the new ambassador available for an interview but they did not. And honestly, it means, still, after all we‘ve been through—still, after all we‘ve learned, it still means an army of private for-profit contractors.
MADDOW: Why is—why is the U.S. training mission supplemented not just by Coast Guard officers and Navy officers and Army officers? Why is it also supplemented by private contractors? Why do we see core guys and stuff out here?
RAY: Well, that‘s the method we use to get people with advanced police skills, one of the methods. And my office where I work, I‘ve got one of the most decorated FBI officers in the history of the service, and he‘s advising the Iraqi police.
MADDOW: And he works for a for-profit contracting company now?
MADDOW: In terms of the transition—I know State Department is taking over a lot of responsibility for Iraqi training from Defense Department. Is that going to change qualitatively the way the training is done? Are they - is that going to be more of a reliance on contractors?
RAY: Well, the police training force that we have—of course, there won‘t be any guys like me.
RAY: So, yes. In essence, it will be largely police force, international police advisers—
RAY: -- that—similar to what we‘re using now could stay. We‘ll have some of the same guys in an overlap there.
MADDOW: Yes. That seems like a big important change for the state department to be taking over from the Defense Department, the Iraqi training, the Iraqi police training mission specifically. A, the police force is huge. B, that‘s a mission that doesn‘t necessarily have an end point. And, C, the State Department is really wickedly underfunded compared with the Defense Department.
So, this is a really important—this is a really important function both in terms of counter-insurgency and the success of—Iraq‘s success moving forward and stability, having the State Department means it‘s going to be a constant battle for resources to do it properly from the American side.
RAY: That‘s a question for the State Department.
MADDOW: That‘s right. And I‘ll keep asking them and they—we‘ll see.
RAY: Yes. I mean, we‘re working with them hand in hand as I said, and they have full visibility of our plans and we have an understanding of their plans to fall in. But in terms of the specific challenges the state is facing, you‘d be best served (INAUDIBLE).
MADDOW: This is an awkwardness I keep coming across while I‘ve been here. There are a lot of questions that I keep asking that I‘m definitely asking the wrong person, and when I ask the right people, they say I‘m asking the wrong person, too. We‘ll see how that goes.
ENGEL: Welcome, truly, to Baghdad. Now you are really in the city.
You can hear the calls to prayer. We‘re in a fruit and vegetable market.
It‘s Ramadan. You‘re in Baghdad now.
MADDOW: During Ramadan, you‘re saying the call to prayer is longer and more ornate or is it more—
ENGEL: People tend to spend a longer time in the mosque. The call to prayers are a little bit more extended, more elaborate. Women tend to dress more conservatively. It is just a time of increased reflection and spirituality.
MADDOW: Now, I‘m not wearing a head scarf and my sleeves are all rolled up and everything. Is it—
ENGEL: It‘s not a religious—it‘s not a conservative religious society.
ENGEL: I mean, you‘re not Muslim. You‘re not Iraqi. People wouldn‘t care about it.
The pictures, you know, they have a picture with a woman in a veil and a picture of a woman with her hair out.
ENGEL: So, it‘s not a—it‘s not a big deal.
ENGEL: It‘s not Afghanistan where it‘s a much more conservative society.
MADDOW: Well, in Afghanistan, we just—women wearing the Abaya or not, there wouldn‘t—you wouldn‘t see this many women on the street.
ENGEL: Iraq didn‘t have—it was a dictatorship from Islam, but didn‘t have an issue with women.
ENGEL: Women went to university. Women held government jobs.
ENGEL: It had a problem with freedom in general.
ENGEL: But women wouldn‘t have been the issue that they had. They had other problems.
MADDOW: Yes. Richard, let me—OK—so, right now we‘re sort of in between the Karada district and downtown. When we were getting ready to leave this morning, there was a big bombing, 41 people killed at a—
ENGEL: Not far from here.
MADDOW: So, what—so we‘re sort of in central Baghdad. That was in northeast Baghdad.
ENGEL: That was in an area where it was Iraqi military base.
MADDOW: The recruiting center, right?
ENGEL: The recruiting center. And they were more than 40 people killed.
ENGEL: All army recruits. There have been a lot of attacks against police and security services recently.
MADDOW: Since we‘ve been here, that‘s—that‘s what I‘ve been reading about most and what we‘ve been hearing about since you‘ve been here, is attacks on policemen, including policemen being shot and their bodies burned—
MADDOW: -- which is obviously even more of a statement than just the attacks.
ENGEL: They‘re trying to say—al Qaeda. It‘s al Qaeda that does that kind of thing.
MADDOW: So, it‘s Sunnis, the al Qaeda.
MADDOW: And what‘s their message? That they‘re not—
ENGEL: Well, the Sunnis think the government is a Shiite government.
ENGEL: They don‘t agree with it. They think that it is a foreign, alien government that is un-Islamic, that has brought by the United States, and which is supported by Iran.
ENGEL: That‘s the Sunni way of viewing the government. And they think attacking it is a good thing.
ENGEL: They‘re taking legitimacy away from it. They‘re hurting Iran in the process. They have a world view. This would be al Qaeda in Iraq or other hard-lined Sunni groups.
MADDOW: But the two timing issues, though. One of the things they always say and this is one of the ways that American officials are sort of trying to say this isn‘t so important, is because it‘s Ramadan, they say we expect attacks to go up during Ramadan.
Why is that? You would think during a holy month that actually things would—that things would be tighter.
ENGEL: Well, if you‘re fighting a religious war and this is a time of increased religious passions—
ENGEL: -- then your passion to fight that religious war goes up.
MADDOW: To be martyred during Ramadan is even more holy and more special.
In terms of the other timing issue, the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom is happening right now. When U.S. troops pulled out of the cities last June, summer of 2009, there was an increase in attacks right around the time of withdrawal. Do you expect that there‘s more violence keyed to that withdrawal?
ENGEL: There‘s no doubt.
ENGEL: I mean, this is a symbolic time. There are groups in here who want to make it look like they‘re kicking the Americans out, that they had to withdraw under fire.
MADDOW: Those are the Shiites though.
ENGEL: And a lot of that is for their own constituency.
ENGEL: Look. You know, brother, we‘ve been fighting all this time. The Americans are leaving. We forced them out. We forced them to go. So, all of your other martyrs who died didn‘t die in vain.
So, they have their own narrative that they have to complete.
ENGEL: But is the society going to collapse? Forty died today. There have been a couple that died, maybe another 20 died in the last couple days.
ENGEL: Is that enough to topple the society? Probably not. Is it terribly unpleasant? Yes. The question is: what happens next?
ENGEL: The Iraqi security forces are 00 are they going to take this kind of thing lightly or are they going to start doing revenge attacks? Will they start—
ENGEL: -- settling scores? Will there be more torture and prisons?
As the Americans draw back.
MADDOW: Well, are the Iraqi security forces sectarian in any meaningful way?
ENGEL: As an—as an institution, no. But there are sectarian problems with it.
ENGEL: I—if you ask the Americans, they‘ll say, no, no, there are not. But there are.
ENGEL: There are a lot of sectarian history with people who participate in the—in the security forces.
ENGEL: And people who have lost family members—you know, let‘s say you‘ve had your families slaughtered by Shiite, you know, they‘re still upset by that.
Can we walk?
ENGEL: Yes, please do.
MADDOW: So, when you—when you‘re out in Baghdad, making this decision to take me here and do these things today—
ENGEL: I‘m delighted that you are here. I‘m really am. We haven‘t -
we haven‘t done this and we don‘t do this enough and—just to get a sense of what the place looks like.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
ENGEL: Ramadan Karim is when everyone says, it‘s Ramadan, it‘s happy Ramadan.
MADDOW: Happy Ramadan?
ENGEL: Well, Ramadan Karim is Ramadan is generous—Ramadan is great is literally what it means.
ENGEL: Karim. And it‘s Allahu Akaram is the response: God is even more generous.
MADDOW: When you think about going out in Baghdad now, do you—how do you know which neighborhoods you feel safe, comfortable wandering around in?
ENGEL: This is a good neighborhood. This is—it‘s a regular neighborhood but it‘s—it‘s not the most dangerous in town. It‘s been relatively stable over the last several years, and so, yes, I didn‘t want to take you to the worst part of Baghdad and have you shot. That would hardly be a nice thing to do as a tour guide.
MADDOW: That would be a nice welcome.
ENGEL: That would be a bad tour guide move.
MADDOW: That‘s the advanced, Richard. This is what a beginner‘s tour.
ENGEL: But this is a representative neighborhood.
ENGEL: I mean, it is Baghdad. You‘ll get the same kind of opinions you‘ll get anywhere else. Maybe we won‘t do as many interviews with al Qaeda militants. We can schedule those for later.
MADDOW: All right. We‘ll schedule those for after Iftar.
ENGEL: Yes, exactly.
MADDOW: These people are less cranky.
But, in terms of a—in terms of a neighborhood like this and how it has changed, this compare—oh, live fish. Very nice.
ENGEL: Masgoof. This is the national dish. These are carp.
ENGEL: And what they do is you buy them live and then they cut them
in half and they open them up and smoke them. And if you buy them actually
you see the big charcoal pit over there?
MADDOW: I was wondering why we saw open fires on the street.
ENGEL: Yes, they‘ll grill them for you and then you can take it home ready.
MADDOW: You could take it home cooked.
ENGEL: You can take it home cooked or you can take it home as is.
MADDOW: Very nice.
ENGEL: And by the pound. So, they weigh it.
ENGEL: Masgoof. It‘s a big fish.
MADDOW: It activates my fishing instincts. I think I could catch those.
ENGEL: Yes, I think you can catch those.
MADDOW: A neighborhood like this, has it changed much since seven years ago? You were here in 2002. Would this neighborhood look like this?
ENGEL: Well, 2002, under Saddam, we couldn‘t have done this - walked around, gone into (UNINTELLIGIBLE), filmed, talked to people - forget about it. I mean, we did film a little bit under Saddam.
ENGEL: But there were always minders with us. There were always people all over us. So 2002 (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MADDOW: But would it have looked like this? Would there have been this kind of market?
ENGEL: Yes. Everything would have looked pretty much the same - maybe a little more variety of items, more fruit. Saddam didn‘t have great relations with all of his neighbors so there wasn‘t a lot of trade going on. But it would have looked pretty much the same.
ENGEL: Things would have been a lot cheaper by the way.
MADDOW: Oh, really?
ENGEL: Baghdad is going to become very expensive. You go, you know, to people‘s - a house in that neighborhood might rent for - you know, a decent two bedroom might rent for $600 a month.
ENGEL: because it‘s a safe neighborhood.
ENGEL: Under Saddam, it would have been very, very cheap. We‘re talking a few dollars - $50, $60. So things, life has gotten much, much more expensive.
MADDOW: Much, much more expensive. And what‘s the comparison?
ENGEL: And the services don‘t work.
MADDOW: Services - that‘s what‘s I was going to say.
ENGEL: Doesn‘t work.
MADDOW: Electricity - well, it doesn‘t work. Water -
ENGEL: Nothing - well, water is tied to electricity.
ENGEL: So you have to be able to pump the water around.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: More still to come from our time in Baghdad at the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. But first, one more thing. Mr. Engel, as a tour guide, takes great pains to assure his guests that he would only ever walk you through a safe area.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENGEL: This is a good neighborhood.
ENGEL: I didn‘t want to take you to the worst part in Baghdad and have you shot, so - does that help?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Reassuring, right? For my first trip to Baghdad, right? Then, before we left, watch what happened. His friend interjected and sort of spoiled the mood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENGEL: He said just so you know the most number of attacks in Baghdad has been on this street. I said, “Oh, great.”
ENGEL: Thanks a lot.
MADDOW: You arranged this for us?
ENGEL: The reason is this is the street that had a lot of VIPs on it, so a lot of car bombs, killing of VIPs. It‘s a central street, one of the main arteries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So either it‘s a really safe street or it‘s the most bombed street in Baghdad he was walking me down. Depends on who you ask. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: So the biggest problem, the biggest difference by far for everyone in this neighborhood would be the services. And if you look here, this is typical now - wires everywhere. Baghdad, in a neighborhood like this, had 24-hour power before the invasion - 24 hours a day.
MADDOW: Not everywhere in the country but places that Saddam wanted there to be power, you could get 24 hours of power.
ENGEL: The capital, the strategic place for Saddam, where he lived
and all his buddies lived -
ENGEL: And his (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the capital after all.
MADDOW: So like Tikrit.
ENGEL: No problems. Even in the south they had more power than they do here now.
MADDOW: What the American officials say though is, overall, there is actually more - there‘s more power being generated in Iraq right now. It‘s just about the demand.
ENGEL: I would invite them to live in an Iraqi‘s house for 24 hours and just do that. Stay in an Iraqi‘s house for two days and see if you still say the same thing.
ENGEL: Oh, yes the power situation is better now than before. That is ludicrous and wrong. Maybe the total wattage is up. Quality of life and quality of - in terms of power and services - are abysmal right now.
This is, you know, everyone is stealing power from each other. There are generators. It‘s not just that there‘s - that the power is little. It is, it doesn‘t work. So when the power comes in your house, Zohair(ph) - my friend, Zohair, he lives in one of the best neighborhoods in town.
ENGEL: And he pays a lot for his house. You have a friend here.
MADDOW: Oh, very good.
ENGEL: His house almost burned down a few days ago.
ENGEL: Because he only has - it was coming in about two, three hours a day but wasn‘t coming in consistently.
MADDOW: So you only get a block of two or three hours.
ENGEL: You get a blast of 15 minutes that blew out everything in his house and set fire to the walls. And he lives in the best neighborhood in Baghdad.
MADDOW: But under Saddam, it was 24 hours‘ power?
ENGEL: He said there was 24-hour power but sometimes it was rationed so you‘d have two hours on, two hours off. He said more than that, much more than that. And he hated the regime.
You know, he was almost - he was tied to a stake to be shot by a firing squad for not having performed his military services as diligently as he should.
He was put in front of a firing squad, hands tied behind his back, rifles raised, and about to be shot to death and then got pardoned by a miracle in the last minute because someone else in his group was politically connected.
MADDOW: I was going to say who arranged the miracle? You arranged the miracle.
ENGEL: Now, you arranged the miracle. They wrote on his leg, his name and a number taped to his leg because, you know, afterwards there‘s just the bodies to be thrown aside.
MADDOW: What‘s going to happen, Zohair(ph), for you with American
media and so much of American contractors and military and everybody
leaving? What‘s going to happen -
ENGEL: Not the American troops. All of us you mean?
MADDOW: Yes, I mean -
ENGEL: But we‘re still here. We still have an office here.
MADDOW: Yes. So much of the American interest and presence and everything.
ENGEL: It‘s difficult. He said he‘s been working with me, Richard, for about eight years. We did a lot of really hard stories in Iraq. We went to some really difficult places. He said, “So now people think of me as an American, not an Iraqi.”
MADDOW: Is that dangerous?
ENGEL: Of course. So if the Americans pull back, yes, it‘s dangerous for me.
MADDOW: What are his plans?
ENGEL: He said he‘s going to stay with me. He said Richard, me, wants him to stay in Iraq so he‘ll stay.
MADDOW: One happy family.
MADDOW: We‘ll get a show, MSNBC. We‘ll talk him into it.
ENGEL: Let‘s do it. He could make it happen.
MADDOW: Yes. That‘s true. You come to New York. You make miracles there. It would be good.
ENGEL: So people talking about, you know, the embassy. And we‘ve noticed the gulf between the American troops and the American diplomats. What happens here has always been wide. Since now American troops have been pulled out of the city, that canyon has become enormous.
MADDOW: What do you mean about the difference between - what do you mean?
ENGEL: When you‘re on a base or you‘re in the Green Zone, you think one thing about Iraq. But the diplomats can‘t go out. You will never see people in the base walking around.
ENGEL: All these people, media escorts from the military who are
taking you around will never come here. And they have a picture of what‘s
going on in Iraq and what‘s going on here is totally different. So I don‘t
care what some PowerPoint slide talks about -
ENGEL: How much power there is and services, it is not representative of what life is like here.
MADDOW: Do you feel like the media learned that lesson at all being here about the necessity to get out on the streets?
ENGEL: Well, of course. There is a perception and it‘s always annoyed me, that journalists in Iraq, you know, you live - people come up to me even now. You know, you live in the Green Zone? No. We never lived in the Green Zone, ever.
We‘ve been out here. I‘ve been living in hotels and people‘s houses. And we went in for interviews and things like that, but we didn‘t live there. It was a totally different reality.
ENGEL: And now that American troops are on their bases pretty much full-time, they really have very little sense of what‘s going on here.
MADDOW: Yes. And journalists who weren‘t in the Green Zone and were out here in what the military calls the red zone paid the price.
ENGEL: Yes. Not that many journalists here anymore.
ENGEL: Pretty much everyone is in Afghanistan now.
MADDOW: You‘re here.
ENGEL: I‘m happy to be here. It‘s going to be emotional. It is emotional.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One really important really simple thing to understand about Iraq is that, in the summer time, it‘s hot. Not just really hot. Not just Houston hot or Phoenix hot - hot. Seventh ring of hell hot. They will never have the summer Olympics here hot.
Why that is not only a good excuse for me looking like this, why it‘s important in terms of the politics here, and the war here, when we come back.
MADDOW: If there is one thing that defines life here in Baghdad at this time of year, it sounds like a pedestrian thing but it really is the defining feature of life here. It‘s the heat.
It affects how you feel. It affects how you think. It affects your health. It affects the daily pace of life here. It affects what you need. And it therefore affects who you need things from.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(on camera): Hold on.
ENGEL: You sweating a little? Come on.
MADDOW: I‘m looking forward to going home without my water weight.
ENGEL: It looks very nice. But a black t-shirt - it‘s not a great idea.
MADDOW: You know, the black t-shirt is good for you in terms of what it looks like to sweat this much.
ENGEL: But it looks good.
MADDOW: I‘m not going to say anything.
ENGEL: I saw that. Black t-shirt. It‘ll be interesting.
MADDOW: Look at you. You‘re in dark green.
ENGEL: Yes, but black is significantly different. And this is made of plastic.
MADDOW: I know. I have the wicky(ph) thing. Yes. It‘s plastic.
What that means is it‘s flammable.
ENGEL: It‘s very flammable.
MADDOW: Which is actually bad news. But I love how you can find something to be judgmental about even when you totally haven‘t earned it.
You‘re wearing like one shade lighter than me and you‘re like, girl -
ENGEL: It‘s black. It‘s black. It‘s black. But yes, it is so hot.
MADDOW: What is it, 115?
ENGEL: Yes, and it‘s morning. I mean, it‘s just noon. I think it‘s probably more than 115. I mean, it‘s been getting up to 125 during the day.
MADDOW: It‘s amazing how much that defines the experience of what it is to be here.
ENGEL: You can‘t escape it.
MADDOW: What might - this is a tiny little anecdote, but arriving, moving into military housing last night, the public affairs officer who is checking us in said, “Make sure you don‘t shower at night. You want to wait until morning until you shower.”
I said, “Why?” She said, “Well, the cold water will scald you.” Because the water is in tanks sitting in pipes all night and it‘s been getting hot all day you will get burned by the cold water. And so the cold water won‘t be cool enough to not burn you until the morning. So I thought oh, right. This is a whole new world.
ENGEL: You can‘t - you can‘t escape it. It is that hot.
ENGEL: And dusty and flat and ugly. The Ottomans - I think a lot about Ottoman history - by the way, hated Iraq.
ENGEL: There are Ottoman poems that describe it as - well, in an unflattering four-letter words and then say, “Baghdad, it is excrement and it is infernally hot.”
ENGEL: I‘ll give you the poem. I think they‘re from the 17th century.
MADDOW: And when you fly in and you fly over the Tigris though and you see the cultivated fields that are in there. You see the Fertile Crescent. You know, you see between the Tigris and Euphrates and you see the place, what they have been able to make of it.
You can imagine - you know, the guy who was in (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You can imagine all of those things. It‘s just - it‘s now been a war zone for 30 years.
ENGEL: And it‘s not doing so well. You know, this country imports fruits and vegetables from Turkey. So it‘s not - and the biggest problem is the power. Because they don‘t have power, people can‘t move water. Gas has gotten very expensive to put in people‘s generators.
Today, Fallujah - I just hung up the phone with someone in Fallujah. They have had two hours of power in three days.
MADDOW: Oh, my god.
ENGEL: So this is the city where Americans had two major combat operations. American troops are leaving. And in Fallujah, people are desperate. Two hours of power in three days. They had 15 minutes of power this morning and then it went off.
And when we talk about the power it comes, you know, for an hour or four hours a day. It comes in an hour. It comes in 10 minutes. It comes in five minutes. It comes in little spurts.
ENGEL: And when it comes, by the way, it blows out all of your appliances because you haven‘t had it for a while.
MADDOW: Yes. I mean, you just think about that. This is the country with the second largest oil reserves in the world that does not have enough energy to have power even for an hour at a time all over the country, even including in the capital city.
And on top of that, America is in year nine of a full scale massive occupation and war here and we‘re leaving with that being the circumstance.
ENGEL: That‘s the - especially since it‘s hot, since it‘s Ramadan, people are fasting. That‘s the taste that people have in their mouth right now.
Will that change later on? In a few years, maybe when it cools down, I hope so. But that‘s the taste they have in their mouths right now. Did you want to go inside before we die from the heat?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
What Richard Engel is talking about there, I did get to see firsthand. The single, most eye-opening thing I have seen on this entire trip to Iraq when we come back.
MADDOW: Being here in Baghdad has been an honor and a privilege in a way that makes the phrase “honor and privilege” not feel like a cliche anymore.
But if out of all the things we have been able to do here this week, if out of all of those things I could do only one, if I had to pick the single hour in which I learned the most since I arrived here, it would be this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(on camera): So right now, it‘s after dark. It‘s still during Ramadan, but because the sun has gone down, because the day has ended, the fast can be broken. The family can eat.
We‘re here with the Abu-Rabas(ph) family, a working class poor Shiite family who lives here in Arasat(ph) district. This is not a house that they own. They are being allowed to stay here.
It‘s a very warm night. It‘s very hot. They do have some electricity. You can tell the lights are on. There‘s a fan blowing. They‘re able to get electricity in part because there‘s a restaurant across the street that has a large generator.
And they‘re able to get some power from them through our friends and through Richard‘s friends here and with the help of Keana(ph), our NBC producer here, we have been able to be invited to this family‘s home, which is a huge honor and a privilege to sit here.
And they have agreed to talk with me a little bit about, you know, what everybody likes to talk over dinner - politics, war and George Bush.
Right now, there‘s no Iraqi government. There is an Iraqi government, can it do good for people or are they not hopeful about that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Like I said, the government - the government has been around for eight years now and they‘ve done nothing. It‘s you and your group. So it‘s not about the government. It‘s about private sects and groups you might belong to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He‘s like, “Look at me, I have got nothing. I have no job. I can‘t get a job. I‘m having a really hard time but that‘s because I don‘t know anybody. So the government isn‘t doing anything for us. The people who know the groups and sects - they‘re all right. But the government should be here for people like us and they‘re not.”
MADDOW: As a 21-year-old man, as a young man, with all of the violence in Iraq and in Baghdad over the past few years, has he felt pressured from the violent groups to get involved in anything like that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He says I don‘t mix with them. I don‘t go near them. I stay really far away from them. I‘ve been threatened twice. They‘ve come after me. They‘ve come after my family, but I just keep trying my best to stay away from anyone who might want it because I‘m my parents‘ only son and I can‘t. I just can‘t get into that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He‘s just saying that Iraq is a country of so many blessings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It‘s a great country and we have so much. But these people, this government, has come in and taken over and has just destroyed us. The only reason we have five watts of power is because of the restaurant across the street.
God bless them for giving us five watts of power. Otherwise, we would have nothing. We would be boiling. We wouldn‘t be able to sit here. We would be boiling and I‘m just working.
I am an employee and I‘m working and this is how I live right now. This is how I‘m living as an employee in this country right now. This is how I‘m living. This government has done nothing to help us, nothing to give us any electricity.
Really, if it wasn‘t for this restaurant, I would have nothing but thankfully, they‘re giving us something. Generators can‘t even survive this heat. Generators, if you bring one, it just breaks, and I have this entire family that I have to keep alive.
MADDOW: Iraq has had 30 years of war and sanctions, war and sanctions
war and sanctions and war and sanctions and war and sanctions. What‘s the best thing that could happen to Iraq now after so much pain?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through telephone): Only one thing, one leader - that is all. One leader. What‘s happening now with all. The best thing that can happen to Iraq is to just have one leader.
MADDOW: One strong central leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Under Saddam - Saddam was here for 30 years or more. And I was afraid to talk to my daughters. I was afraid to speak about anything to my daughters.
There‘s not a single house in this country that doesn‘t have at least one or two martyrs, people who have died in war, family members who have died in war. I‘ve been hit here. I‘ve been hit in my stomach. There isn‘t one single family in this country that hasn‘t had a family member killed in war.
But what this government is doing now, seven years of no electricity, is unacceptable. It‘s just ridiculous. How can we live for seven years without electricity?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No one likes or misses Saddam. No one I‘ve spoken to at least, nor anyone I‘ve heard about. Everybody is glad that Saddam is gone. And - and everyone remembers that under Saddam, there was electricity, at least here in Baghdad.
A violent autocracy is a constant crime against its subjects, but freedom itself is not life. And life here, in many ways, is awful. Basic services, safety, opportunity, corruption - it‘s awful.
Now, life in a lot of places is awful, but as Americans, this is our awful. This is us now, because of what America did here. What happens next here comes down on them - on them, on their kids, but it is also on our conscience. And to an extent we will long fight about, it is our responsibility because of America‘s war here.
That does it for us tonight. From Baghdad, thanks. Good night.
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