Thursday, December 02, 2004

Losing the roads...and possibly your shirt

AP reports on the collapse of security on the roads of Iraq, including the route to Baghdad airport. Although the military now call it RPG Alley and the British Embassy has banned its staff from using it, the alternatives are even worse. After all, the route to the western border passes through Ramadi and Fallujah. The northern route out goes via Mosul. The southern route goes through the main battle area at the moment - the Iskandariyah area - and then Najaf and Karbala, and the southeastern route passes through Amarah where carjacking is common. Looks like it'll have to be the airport then. Stand by for Iraq's first air-taxi service. Bound to happen.

And then we'll know we've really lost.

On the same theme, Back to Iraq is - well - back in Iraq, and reports that the mobile phone network is failing because the insurgents are destroying the base stations. Oh, and the electricity's going to buggery again. But that doesn't stop some of us - like Dr. Omar al-Damluji for example, Iraq's Minister of Housing and Construction:
"Finally, a flunky brought me and my photographer into the room to behold His Excellency. He was holding a meeting and didn’t bother looking up as we came in. For 90 minutes he listened to his subordinates and answered their questions about concrete and tar factories. Then he told them he wanted all the factories profitable so they could be privatized and sold on the Baghdad Stock Exchange, noting approvingly of Margaret Thatcher’s actions in Britain in the 1970s and ’80s. Later, in the few minutes I had with him after the meeting, he admitted that he also wanted foreign investment but that he worried that if the companies weren’t profitable, there wouldn’t be any buyers."
As Michael Herr would have put it, "what could you say to that except "Colonel - you're insane!"?" No electricity. No security. No phones. And the good doctor's still daydreaming about loading up on skyrocket soaraway Baghdad equities. In The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux describes meeting the South Vietnamese Minister of Tourism in 1974. The Minister describes his plans to advertise beach resorts and tours of Hue (a shelled-out city under siege). Theroux's reply was as follows: "But - the tourists might be a bit worried about getting shot!" The same, of course, would go for Dr. Pangloss's foreign investors. Mind you, the Minister did have a suggestion for the Iraqis:
"We will appeal to their curiosity - people in America. So many had friends or relatives in Vietnam. They have heard so much about this country." Sounding distinctly ominous he said, "Now they can find out what it is really like."

Mr Ngoc said, "Places like Bangkok and Singapore are just commercial. That's not interesting. We can offer spontaneity and hospitality, and since our hotels aren't very good we could also appeal to the more adventurous. There are many people who like to explore the unknown..."

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