Thursday, July 01, 2004

Iraq is always half empty 

Glass is never half full in Iraq.

Item 1

The "Financial Times" reports on a study of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among the troops that have served in Iraq. The study has found that "19.5 per cent of troops who served in Iraq had moderate or severe mental health problems. If milder symptoms such as anxiety are included, the number rises to 27.9 per cent."

Two specific points:

"Advances in technology and battlefield medicine have reduced the casualties from military action in Iraq... Indeed, low casualty rates disguise the number of 'close calls, such as having been saved from being wounded by wearing body armour', which the report notes can cause trauma."
Any mental health problems are of course bad, but this is arguably good news: in past conflicts more soldiers got killed and wounded; now they're suffering from the PTSD instead. I know which one I would choose.

"[M]ental illness is higher than in earlier conflicts such as the first Gulf war, the US study claims... In the first Gulf war 2-10 per cent of veterans suffered from the condition."
Which could have something to with the length of the military operations (ground war, after all, took only 3 days), and the absence of occupation and guerilla warfare in 1991.

More importantly, if you check the information on the website of the National Centre for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, you'll find the following:

"The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study estimated in 1988 that the prevalence of PTSD in that group was 15.2% at that time and that 30% had experienced the disorder at some point since returning from Vietnam...

"About 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. An additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives. More than half of all male Vietnam veterans and almost half of all female Vietnam veterans have experienced 'clinically serious stress reaction symptoms'."
Which, all things considered, doesn't make the Iraq war more unusual than any other war, however tragic the PTSD is for the individual sufferers and their loved ones.

Item 2

The "Seattle Times" reports on the Government Accounting Office's study of Iraq: "Iraq's basic services worse now than before war, GAO says":

"In a few key areas - electricity, the judicial system and overall security - the Iraq that America handed back to its residents Monday is worse off than before the war began last year."
Leaving aside for a while the perennial problems of electricity supply and overall security, let's focus on these two conclusions:

"The country's court system is more clogged than before the war, and judges are frequent targets of assassination attempts.

"The new Iraqi civil-defense, police and overall security units are suffering from mass desertions, are poorly trained and ill-equipped."
Alas, no one who has any idea about the operation of a totalitarian state apparatus could possibly argue that the Iraqis are now worse off. Judicial system might be "more clogged" but no longer with cases of treason, or numerous other offences against the glorious regime of Saddam Hussein. Security forces might indeed be weak, but they're no longer oppressing religious and ethnic minorities or political dissidents, or indeed anyone they feel like.

If you actually take time to read the whole GAO report as opposed to taking bits and pieces out of executive summaries, you might actually get a more complete and balanced picture of a country in transition, where a lot has already been done and a lot remains to be done. Also bear in mind that the report doesn't substantially address such aspects of life like political, economic and personal freedoms, all unheard of in Saddam's days. But that would put you in danger of acquiring the full picture.


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