The large majority of our casualties in Iraq are the result of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. Those troops who survive the blasts often suffer horribly from disfiguring burns, traumatic amputations, and penetrating brain injuries. Experience teaches us that only fools travel roads that have not been secured, and even after spending billions of dollars in an attempt to eliminate the IED threat, our troops are still at considerable risk from these devices.
We have focused a great deal of attention on ways to detect IEDs and on finding insurgent cells that produce them, but we need to destroy the root cause of the problem.
Who are the Iraqi insurgents, anyway? Political candidates, the public and even analysts seem to lump them all together into some sort of cohesive enemy force. They are not, of course, and as time passes, they seem to become more fragmented, often squabbling among themselves and jockeying for potential advantage in a post-American Iraq.
Last week, I had a conversation with a man who had recently led American troops in Iraq, and he recounted the sad story of one of his soldiers who had died from an IED blast. Interestingly, the perpetrator was captured and it was discovered that he did not plant the IED for ideological reasons, nor even with the objective of getting Americans to quit Iraq. Instead, this “insurgent” was one of a large number of Iraqis who are paid about $50 by enemy cells to plant the IEDs. And he did it because he was unemployed and needed the money.
If history teaches us anything, it is that people who are prospering economically don’t revolt, don’t commit crimes, don’t emplace explosives. It is instructive that in the north of Iraq, in Kurdistan, the economy is vibrant and there is little violence. In Anbar Province, which used to be absolute hell on Earth, employment is now growing and as a consequence violence is nearly non-existent.
But neither the U.S. nor Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has done enough to enable the people of Iraq to prosper. The majority of contracts are let to foreign companies and to companies that employ everybody but the citizens of Iraq. Kuwaitis and Jordanians are doing very well, thank you, but not Iraqis, the people who can really make a difference. Saddam Hussein was a bloodthirsty, megalomaniacal tyrant, but he operated 160 state-owned enterprises and the Iraqi government needs to get them operating again.
Some American investors are thinking clearly, and they are putting private money to work in Iraq with the objective of getting Iraqis employed, investing in such enterprises as rug factories and tomato-paste canneries. This will encourage agriculture, Iraq’s forte, and generate even more employment. But much more of this needs to take place if we have any hope of saving the country.
We know from our own nation’s experience that people of diverse backgrounds can live in harmony if they are not in fear of destitution. Building a nation from the remnants of a wreck is not easy, but it isn’t impossible either. To be sure, it takes an adequate military force to insure security, and Iraq will not survive if its religious differences are not ameliorated, but it also takes an understanding that economic prosperity makes people stop killing us and each other.
When an Iraqi will accept $50 to emplace deadly explosives, he is out of ideas.