Iraqi people are open, engaging, and always willing to lend a sympathetic ear. They also love to talk politics. Generally, people don’t discuss politics; they just talk politics.
While waiting at the Rasheed Bank we met an elderly, bald, white-haired gentleman sporting a pencil moustache and who seemingly forgot to properly set his comb-over that morning. He sat slouched on a tattered black leather chair next to us during one of our extended waits to make that simple deposit. You do not sit next to someone in Iraq without acknowledging them. After greeting each other and sitting in silence for a bit, the gentleman complained about the slow-motion activity of the bank and its employees. He was at the bank to reactivate his account because it was suspended due to inactivity for over a year. In Iraq, you cannot bank at a branch other than your home branch. He moved to Diyala province east of Baghdad some time back to escape the violence and instability of the capital. This quickly led to him airing his frustrations about the general political and economic situation in the country. It turned out he was formerly a member of the Ba’ath party – the party of Saddam. What you should note, however, is that almost every public servant (teacher, doctor, soldier, scientist, etc.) was required to hold Ba’ath party membership. Not all Ba’athists are guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Cab drivers are another great gateway to the general public sentiment of the state of the country. Most cab drivers in Baghdad, a city of around 10 million or more, voiced their support for the current Maliki government. A rare few voiced their opposition to the incumbent.
Unfortunately there is a problem with Iraqis when they are assembled in large groups. The herd mentality is not unique to Iraq, but in Iraq it is egregious. The concept of the queue is non-existent. And you can forget about personal space in any public area, whether at the ticket counter, cash register, or airport customs. And unfortunately the general incompetence of employees, whether government or private, contributes to the state of confusion that feeds the herd.
Driving in Iraq is a great metaphor for the socio-political state of the country. Need to make a left turn on a two-way street divided by a median? Just drive on the wrong side for a few blocks and make your turn instead of U-turning at the nearest intersection. Traffic piled up in front of you? Just drive off road until you reach the bottleneck then angrily gesture to the car in front for not yielding access to you. Intersections become free-for-alls where cars participate in an unchoreographed ballet of weaving, stopping, and charging. That is my sad review of the state of affairs dominating this rich, ancient country full of good people that simply don’t know how to function as a collective. Next update from Dubai.