Up With Chris Hayes
updated 3/17/2013 3:17:45 PM ET 2013-03-17T19:17:45

Iraqis face enormous challenges as they try to rebuild a nation decimated by decades of conflict and trauma. Has the reconstruction failed?

Ten years after the US invasion of Iraq, Iraqi hopes that American intervention would lead to “heaven on earth in three weeks” still go unfulfilled. On Sunday’s Up w/ Chris Hayes, guests Raed Jarrar, Zainab al Suwai, Basama Zaiber, and Koby Langley discussed the legacy of America’s decades-long involvement there and the challenges Iraqis face as they work to reconstruct a national infrastructure crippled by decades of conflict and harsh sanctions.

A Gallup poll conducted in March of 2011 found that the percentage of Iraqis living in slum conditions skyrocketed during the US occupation, rising from 17% in 2000 to 53% in 2011. Iraqis were suffering long before George W. Bush took America to war under false pretenses. There is a “misperception that the war started in 2003. It started in 1991,” Jarrar, Communications Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said. Langley, a veteran who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, described the environment the first wave of soldiers entered in stark terms. “The fight wasn’t against the Iraqi army,” he said, “It was how to get the lights back on.”

The end of the war has not meant the end of violence; dozens of people have been killed in suicide bombings in 2013 alone, including one on March 11 that killed three people and wounded 100 others, many of them children. In addition to security threats, reconstruction efforts are slowed by widespread corruption; Iraq ranked 169 out of 176 countries when it comes to corruption, according to Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, ahead of Myanmar, Sudan, and Somalia.

Military operations are over, and control of reconstruction has been handed to the Iraqis, but the lessons of the past ten years are not lost on the citizens who have been working to rebuild, however slowly. “The questions that we have to ask is not how the US should be engaged in nation-building,” Jarrar said, “but whether the US should be involved in nation-building. I don’t think the US has the capacity, it does not have the moral or legal grounds to go to another country and build [it].”

Video: The Iraq War we made

  1. Closed captioning of: The Iraq War we made

    >>> hello from new york. i'm chris hayes here with raed jarrar , koby langley, iraq war veteran , basma zaiber. we are talking about iraq and the state of iraq ten years after the u.s. invasion in march of 2003 . and we are talking about the -- just the basic live reality of living in a place with the infrastructure that was -- had been destroyed in 1991 and the persian gulf bombing campaign. it was impossible to rebuild it through a combination of very strict sanctions that didn't let in things like pipes that would be the kind of things you would need to import and rebuild sawage facility that was bombed. of course, saddam hussein of not being particularly motivated to do things that would necessarily improve the lives of people particularly when it was a means of him of showing how destructive the sanctions were. wane to be careful about this. i think it is example of both ends. the debate we had was the suffering of the iraqi people during the period of sanctions regime saddam 's fault or the sanction's fault and seems like in retrospect it was both. there was an expectation of the fact when the war happened on the ground in iraq that these problems of electricity and clean water the basics of life would be i am proved.

    >> you know what, i was born and raised in iraq . i lived like my -- i attended secondary school , high school , all in iraq . it was like before 1991 and after 1991 . i can tell you. it is not please -- wasn't the great country with great schools and hospitals and everything before 1991 . but it got worse, of course, after all the bombs and the infrastructure of iraq and no power to live like summer of -- like 150 degree was no electricity, no air conditioning . i don't know how did we survive. and goats 100 degrees, will be like -- all the media says don't go outside, keep inside. i was like okay, come on. it is like 115 in iraq . people have no electricity. anyways -- so when the war started in 2003 , we, the people of iraq , had like a very high expectation that everything will be fine within the next couple of months. it is okay, muslim people think we are getting rid of saddam . so all the sacrifice and all the bombs and thinking was okay we have hope that lgs will get better. i think it is -- taking too long to get better.

    >> was -- i mean, you supported the war, am i correct?

    >> i was supporting to get rid of saddam .

    >> that was the instrument by which it happen.

    >> we lived many years under saddam 's brutality. many people got killed. the country has been damaged. saddam has been leading iraq from one war to another, invaded kuwait for no reason. he's the one who destroyed the whole country and destroyed its own people. i mean -- all of these -- all of these things were part of the system.

    >> did you have expectations, though, that -- like -- basma was saying, expectations of what would life -- what would reconstruction look like? when you imagine the americans are here, right, you know, they may -- they had their stuff together. right? they are going to -- we are going to get power and --

    >> we get -- i got iraq in 2003 . working on rebuilding the education system in europe. surveying schools, working on women's rights. working on teaching democracy and i building civil society through my organization. we did all of these kind of things. we trained 56,000 teachers and education. there there are a lot of efforts that was invested in iraq . throughout these years. these efforts actually -- did some change in iraq . it is not the magic one. not going to happen within two, three months.

    >> the point is that -- people did have high expectations. not because just the -- they had like -- a vision of how the u.s. would function in iraq . this is what they were promised. repeatedly. they were told, you know, your country would become heaven on earth . like dee three weeks, you know. just like -- set aside. i mean -- for point i want to make here is that there weren't many people, including myself, who although understood the situation thought that iraqis should take the lead on reconstruction from day one. i'm not saying that -- like people didn't know that there was devastation. everyone knew. but i don't think that everyone expected the u.s. to have the capacity to build the country without iraqiparticipation.

    >> did you feel that?

    >> oh, yes, from day one. we weren't equipped to deal with that kind of reconstruction. you are talking about very thin force in a war that was pitched to the american people on the chief to be completely honest with you. i don't think that if today -- if folks said it would cost $2.2 trillion --

    >> can you imagine going before the american people and sell something that's going to cost $2.2 trillion?

    >> i just -- i don't think that would have happened. you know -- the loss of life and blood and treasure, ultimately these are -- fights that are still being fought today. they are still -- defunct electrical grid . people still having trouble accessing clean water and -- these basic, you know, necessities of life. and -- that was than ann expectation and happened almost immediately. that almost became the largest security threat we face.

    >> this is -- study by gala which went in and polled -- and had -- came the metric for slum conditions. iraqis living in slum conditions. this number is shocking. in 2000 , 17% p. by 2011 it w5s w5s -- 53%. this is much worse. obviously, you know, how you weigh what -- the value of getting rid of saddam , et cetera , and in the daily life of being an iraqi. what are things there like now? i mean, what does -- does the electricity go up? can you get oil? do the cell phone networks work? what is the reality there now?

    >> the best thing is iraq , the cell phones .

    >> that's true. across the world. one thing works is the cell phones .

    >> nothing else. electricity is still -- you know -- each household getsility for a few hours each day.

    >> rae stored power. i know that. they don't have problems like nasiriyah.

    >> some regional governments .

    >> it is getting better now.

    >> pretty much good -- electricity.

    >> dysfunction. when you think about how much money was thrown on that problem from the u.s. side, though, around $60 million we know of that were spent on the so-called reconstruction xansz, and -- from iraq , you know, iraq has $100 million a year of a budget. we are talking about another trillion dollars on the iraqi side. it is amazing to think that a country as small as iraq that has a budget that's larger than jordan and syria and lebanon and egypt combined, can't provide very basic services, citizens in a decade.

    >> this is why i want to bring in special investigator general for iraq reconstruction who just issued an absolutely scathing report that traces through the reasons. have you inputs here, $2 trillion of american money although not, obviously, to reconstruction. you have an iraqi oil budget over the last ten years. and the outputs are the -- slum conditions i just said in two, three hours of electricity a day. live from baghdad , talking to special inspector general right after this break. [ man ]


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