Afghanistan has been getting all the ink lately, and for good reason. General Stanley McChrystal's act of self-immolation by way of Rolling Stone magazine kicked off a genuine no-bones-about-it constitutional crisis over civilian control of the military, until President Obama sacked him at pretty close to the speed of light. The number of troop deaths has reached 100, making June the deadliest month for the coalition since this war began eight years ago. Civilians continue to die all over the place, the poppies continue to flourish, and there's talk about talks with the Taliban, but nobody really wants to talk about that. The so-called "mainstream" media was kind enough to wait for a Democrat to be in the White House before publicly coming to the conclusion that the war looks unwinnable. Somewhere, George W. Bush is smirking over that one, but that's just par for the course.
So, yeah, every day is a busy day in the dust and mountains of Afghanistan, and June has been exceptionally busy even by that high standard. For the longest time - the better part of a decade, actually - Afghanistan was the war that nobody heard about. People died every day, the Bush-era strategies failed and failed again, but all eyes were focused on the war in Iraq. The script has been flipped, Afghanistan gets the headlines now, and the ongoing war in Iraq has been relegated to the back pages, if it makes the papers at all.
It would be a hell of a thing if this country, its people and its "mainstream" media could focus on more than one thing at a time, wouldn't it? Because we are still at war in Iraq, too. Soldiers are still dying there - 38 this year, seven this month - along with dozens of Iraqi service members and policemen. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians are killed and wounded every month, just like in Afghanistan, but we have somehow allowed ourselves to accept the farcical notion that things are settled enough over there that we can ignore what's going on.
Think again, folks, because it's high summer in Iraq, and tempers are getting very short. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the ugly effect of this ongoing conflict continues to grind the people into the ground:
At least three times a week, Maher Abbas brings one of his two young children or his elderly mother to the hospital to be treated for dehydration, stomach bugs or heat exhaustion. Lack of water and electricity are killing his family and his business, he said. Abbas's comments reflect a wave of fury that has erupted across this country of 30 million as Iraq's sweltering summer begins. Most people are having to deal with electricity shortages that leave them with no respite from the heat and no water when their household electric pumps shut off.
Seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraqis are taking to the streets to demand basic services they have not received, despite many promises and the expenditure of billions of dollars by the U.S. and Iraqi governments. Their anger has forced the hand of Electricity Minister Karim Wahid, who resigned Monday. In a news conference the same day, Wahid said the ministry could not keep up with demand and did not have enough money, adding that the situation was out of its control.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defended his government and Wahid. He blamed Iraqis for consuming too much electricity, squatters for tapping into and overwhelming the electrical grid, and the previous parliament for not approving billions of dollars for infrastructure projects to be undertaken with several foreign firms, forcing the government to take out about $2.1 billion in bonds this year. He also warned that Iraqis should expect power cuts for two more years.
Two years. Think about that. Americans will be voting in another presidential election before the Iraqi people can even begin to hope for more than a few hours of reliable electricity a day, and they've been dealing with this situation for a very long time already. Under the best of circumstances, a lack of basic electricity and water service for seven years would be an unbelievable burden on the people, but these are not the best of circumstances by any stretch of the imagination, because it's summer over there. Iraq in summertime is one of the hotter places on the planet; the average daily temperature during this season is 104 degrees, and on many days tops out at nearly 120 degrees.
The heat and lack of services has already led to an outpouring of violence in that already-violent nation. Earlier this month, a protest at the provincial government building in Basra over the lack of electrical service turned unruly; Iraqi police officers wound up firing into the angry, frustrated crowd after bricks and bottles were thrown, killing one protester and wounding three.
According to another Washington Post report, "Iraqis typically pay about $200 a month for generator power that can run one or two appliances in their homes when the electricity is out. Iraqis have taken to unconventional means to beat the heat. Some sit in their cars with the air conditioning on or drench themselves in water before sleeping on cool tile floors."
Of course, the heat is not the only thing causing violence in Iraq. In the last week, car bombs and shootings killed several Iraqi police officers, soldiers and civilians all over the country. But the heat is adding another dimension to an already-unstable and deadly situation. For the seventh time since we invaded, it is going to be another long, hot, murderous summer over there.
We might want to pay attention.