Iraq: Two reflections one year on

US troops in Iraq, photo: CTK

Welcome to Talking Point. One year on after the start of the US-led military campaign that led to the overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, we'll hear the views of two Czechs who were directly involved either in the military operation itself, or the international efforts to restore post-Saddam Iraq. One is a journalist who was embedded with the US troops during the military campaign and the other is the former head of the Czech delegation at the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

US troops in Iraq,  photo: CTK
"I was lucky to get to Iraq last year with the US troops during the military campaign. It was a very good experience for me. In the 1990s I covered the unrest in the Balkans and so Iraq was somehow a continuation for me to learn more about the conflicts and the roots of the conflict. Because I believe we can find common roots of conflicts."

Frantisek Sulc is a commentator with the national daily Lidove noviny. As the only Czech journalist he was given a chance to directly observe the operations from the position of a journalist embedded with the United States troops.

In mid-2003, former journalist and human rights worker Janina Hrebickova arrived in Iraq to head the Czech team within the Coalition Provisional Authority. Just like Frantisek Sulc, Ms Hrebickova finds her Iraqi experience a most valuable one.

"I got this credit to do something very unique in my professional life and I think also in the destiny of the new Czech foreign diplomacy. What I would like to say is that this was the first time that the modern Czech Republic got into the kind of solidarity for trying to achieve better conditions for building of new democratic ways and standards for governance and for the government in a very much destroyed country - not only economically, socially and politically - but factually in general as Iraq."

Janina Hrebickova,  photo: CTK
Again, like journalist Frantisek Sulc, Janina Hrebickova had already had experience from armed conflicts in the Balkans when she arrived in Baghdad last year.

"I have been to many conflict countries before; before the war, during the war and after the war. I can say, in my view, Iraq is something special because of two things. One is that the society itself is very much fragmented and the fragmentation of the society makes the whole reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts much more difficult than any other country I have been in regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the justification of the war, etc., if we disagree with the political approaches, etc., that's not important at this stage."

When the Czech team arrived in Iraq to help launch economic and social transition in the country, as Janina Hrebickova says, the conditions were less than favourable.

"We were eighteen people in Iraq, representing the Czech Republic which has 10.5 million inhabitants. It means it is not a very big or strong country, economically or politically. It was not easy to get into the whole idea of the coalition because of the big mess in the beginning. When I say "mess", I don't want to be critical. I don't want to criticise because I think no one has the right to criticise. Because nobody in this era has ever met with a situation such as post-Saddam Iraq. It was a mess in all spheres, starting from the military level, going to the political level, social and educational level, human rights, NGOs, and so on. Wherever you looked, you found a big mess."

More than two decades of the rule of Saddam Hussein had left their mark on the state of the society but so did the events immediately following the defeat of the regime. Journalist Frantisek Sulc experienced the very first days after the regime was brought down. He says things could have perhaps been done differently.

"I've been thinking for the past year about what we did wrong during the campaign and mainly after the campaign. And I think that as I saw it for example when we entered Baghdad, when I saw the looting. Of course, the people in the very first three days, they were happy that they have freedom, that Saddam Hussein fell and so on. But after three days they felt the insecurity. And from that time the main question for them was that you cannot eat freedom. So first the security, then get a job to feed the family. And I think it is a very important thing we have to focus on in any future conflict - to secure the area in the very first minute any force conquers this area."

According to Mr Sulc, what is and was missing in Iraq, just like in other post-conflict areas, were police units specially trained for such missions.

As June 30th, the date set as the deadline to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis approaches, international teams involved in restoration projects already running in Iraq are asking themselves what will happen next. Former head of the Czech delegation at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Janina Hrebickova.

"The thing now is what do we do after June 30th? Of course, we would all like the Iraqis to start "their own business" and we would like to see them start dealing with their own issues. However, there are hundreds and hundreds of projects started and it would be very unreasonable and it would be very bad for Iraqis themselves if the international experts who are already working on different projects there, if they just disappear. So what we are trying now to do is to think what would be the best way for not only the Czech experts, but also for other experts representing other countries who are already there or who came there a month ago or two months ago, how to keep them there and how to keep their activities going even though it is not going to be the Coalition Provisional Authority anymore."