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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Chris Allbritton Just Got Back to Iraq

Insted of focusing on Florida it's time to look at the latest happening in Iraq:
The latest outrage to hit Iraq is the revised plan for the weekend. When I left on Feb. 2, Iraqis observed their own weekend: half a day off on Thursday and a full day off on Friday, the Islamic holy day. This was a little inconvenient for us westerners working here, since that meant we started work on a Saturday while our editors were taking these two days off. The only real overlap in the Iraqi workweek and the rest of the world's was Monday through Wednesday and that dratted half-day on Thursday.

Well, three weeks ago, the Iraqi interim government decreed that the weekend would henceforth be two full days: Friday and Saturday. On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. It means government workers won't be making the hazardous trip to and from work quite as often, and it will allow Iraqis to interact with the rest of the world four out of five business days. But college students, many of them belonging to organizations professing loyalty to populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are outraged. They're demonstrating on university campuses all over Iraq denouncing Saturday-as-holiday as a “Zionist conspiracy.” Why? Because Saturday is the Jewish sabbath, and Jews are, well, the bad guys in Iraq. One of my staff here at the TIME house is furious with the idea of taking Saturday off, saying, “The Jews occupy Iraq and they want to take their day off.” (He also believes the Iranians occupy Iraq because of the Sistani coalition's victory in the Jan. 30 elections. He's Sunni.)

At any rate, it now appears the Allawi government will back down and make Thursday and Friday the “new” weekend, giving the Iraqis only three workdays in common with most of the rest of the world. But hell, that's OK. I'm a freelancer. I'm all in favor of setting your own schedule.

On the surface this is silly. Jordan and the Gulf states take Friday and Saturday off, and Lebanon takes Saturday and Sunday off, so there's no uniformity in the Arab world. And some could point to this as just another example of the paranoid mindset of many young Iraqis. But there's a reason for this mindset: For years, Iraqis have had to eat and breath conspiracy theories because so often there were conspiracies to contend with. (You think totalitarian states operate with transparency?) And the damage of the United Nations sanctions over 12 years hardened Iraqis' attitudes toward the world, causing them to think, not unreasonably, that the world was out to get them. A people who already suspicious of outsiders because of their Bedouin heritage came to hate foreigners because the cause of many of their problems were foreigners meddling in Iraq. The list is long: The Americans who betrayed them in 1991, the Security Council that abandoned them in the years that followed, The Americans in 2003 to the present, and now the widespread belief that Syria and Jordan (among the Shi'ites) and Iran (among the Sunnis) are further meddling behind the scenes to destroy Iraq by supporting either “terrorists” or Persian cats paws.

The sad part is as long as this administration is power we will be meddling in the affairs of Iraqis. Hell, you might even say we're married to them - just we will never be allowed to pull the plug on this one...