For the AP, Laura Jakes reports on how members of Iraq's parliament have skipped town to go on holiday, without having followed through on a promised cancellation of a "pricey perk": free armored cars. Meanwhile . . .
"They have not discussed ways of how to improve the lives of people like me," said Ammar Hassan, a college graduate from Karbala who drives a taxi to support himself. "They only think about themselves instead of paying attention to people's welfare."
The 39-year-old Hassan said he earns an average of about $200 each month — a fraction of the monthly $22,500 salary afforded to each of the 325 lawmakers in parliament.
"I'm afraid the day will come when lawmakers pass a law imposing taxes on ordinary people' salaries and incomes to cover their own living costs," he said bitterly.
Iraq's government has been rife with corruption going back to the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who hoarded the nation's oil riches for himself and his cronies amid an impoverished public. Hopes that conditions would dramatically improve as Iraq tried to build a post-Saddam democracy proved overly optimistic, however. A quarter of Iraq's population of 31 million people live in poverty, and an estimated 15 percent are unemployed, according to U.S. data compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Raw sewage runs through the streets in many neighborhoods, polluting tap water, sickening residents and adding to an overall sense of misery. Many Iraqis only have 12 hours of electricity each day.
By contrast, Iraqi lawmakers were given a $90,000 stipend for expenses in addition to their monthly salaries when they took office in 2010. And in February, parliament voted to buy $50 million worth of armored cars to protect lawmakers from insurgent attacks that routinely target officials.
But far more innocent bystanders than government officials usually are killed in Iraq's still-frequent bombings. The pricey perk enraged the public, which was only soothed by sheepish promises to redirect the money to what parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi at the time called "more important and vital items for the community."
Since then, however, lawmakers have dragged their feet on giving up the cars — and on most other vital legislation.
Lawmaker Mohammed al-Khalidi said the latest plan being considered would let legislators from some of Iraq's most dangerous provinces — Baghdad, Sunni-dominated Anbar and Ninevah, and the sectarian and ethnically divided Diyala — keep the cars.
On the other hand, news such as this from Iraq today - about suicide bombers and car bombs targetting and killing Iraq security forces - might lead one to feel that these members of parliament might have good reason to hang onto those armored cars.
Yes, Saddam is dead. Yes, the Iraqis have had elections. And Yes, in what one might term "the Surge 2," Iraq's oil production is ramping upward. But corruption is rampant, Arabs and Kurds, Sunni and Shia still harbor deep distrust and horrible memories, and Mr. al-Maliki continues to turn himself into a Saddam-lite. Meanwhile, as it did for his brutal predecessor in the 1980s, the US still largely backs his play, in the cause of "stability" and the hope of thwarting Iran.
But the larger point here is that, in so many ways, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq - at great sacrifice to the American people (including the mothers of the 4000+ who were killed), and even more horrific sacrifice to tens of thousands of Iraqi mothers and families - ultimately did so very little to change Iraq's political culture.
What was the point?
I hope Mr. Bush remembers to ask himself that question today.