Two years in Iraq - from optimism to disillusion


In April 2003, just before the end of the war in Iraq, the Czech Republic was one of six countries invited to work on a plan to help rebuild the Iraq as soon as peace settles in. One man, whose main goal was to help Czech companies win contracts to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq was Martin Klepetko, who spent two years as Czech Ambassador to Baghdad. Mr Klepetko has just finished his term and now works in the foreign ministry's department for southern and eastern Europe.

Martin KlepetkoMartin Klepetko That's where we caught up with him to find that after assuming his post with optimistic plans, he has come back somewhat disillusioned. It will be long before the dream of a sovereign democratic Iraqi state will become reality, says the diplomat, who has had one of the most turbulent terms any Czech diplomat has had to endure - he was forced to negotiate the release of three abducted Czech journalists, his car was shot at twice, and a fellow diplomat was brutally murdered:

"The first period was quite ordinary diplomatic work. I did my paperwork in my office, read the news, corresponded with the [Czech] foreign ministry and then tried to establish as many contacts as I could with the locals and with the coalition administration, which was the leading organisation in the country. The second period, which started in April 2004, was quite different. Most of the time I had to stay in my office because movement around Baghdad was very limited and going out of the city was practically impossible, with the exception of some flights which were limited to two cities within Iraq."

BaghdadBaghdad It's interesting that you came to the country as it was starting its reconstruction/rebuilding process and instead of the situation getting better it all seems to have gone the other way. Where do you see Iraq's short-term future?

"It's very unpredictable. I have to say that I was a cautious optimist at the beginning and I remained one almost until the end of my stay. But during the last months, especially after the new Iraqi government was established, it seemed to me that the developments are going the wrong way. Today I'm no longer as optimistic about the future of Iraq, the way we intended to see it - that the country would have a democratic society but with a local flavour, of course. Now it seems that the development will be strictly based on Islamic laws and the Islamic way of life, which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't accompanied by violence and corruption in all government and other institutions."

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK You weren't able to speak to that many ordinary Iraqis about the situation. But from the few you spoke to or from what you heard in the news or saw in the papers, what's the general atmosphere like, what do ordinary citizens think of the current situation?

"I must say that I did not have the opportunity to speak to many ordinary citizens. The ordinary citizens I spoke to were those who worked in the embassies, ordinary officers at the ministries, some shopkeepers, of course the few friends that I had, but that's really a very low number compared to the situation in any other 'normal' country. But according to this experience, I can say that ordinary Iraqis are very dissatisfied with the development. Let's put aside the security situation, which Iraqis have already got used to. They simply know that they have to be careful wherever they go, when taking their children to school, going shopping, and so on.

"Their main concern today is the services. The situation is very bad when it comes to electricity, water, and any kind of transportation. There is a shortage of fuel for cars and all of this makes people very angry. They expect any government that comes into office to improve the situation but on the contrary, we can say it's deteriorating all the time and if not, then it's on the same level. What we have seen so far, unfortunately, is the personal interests of many, be it ministers or government officers."

How is the Czech Republic involved in the rebuilding process of Iraq?

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "The foreign ministry and the government as such were very much involved in the first period. They invested a lot of money to support government and non-government organisations to take part in the process. But unfortunately the impact of the worsening security situation forced us to withdraw much of our staff. Now we have quite an ordinary number of diplomatic staff in Baghdad. We try to support the economic activities of our companies and continue with the development and transformation programmes.

"But it's very difficult, given the conditions of course. Nobody can travel to Iraq, everything has to be done from a distance, and the companies, which are very welcome in Iraq are afraid. I cannot recommend them to go to Iraq because I know that it's very dangerous. So, they have to wait and work from a distance, invite Iraqis to come here and train them from here. But it's still very little work, when compared with the intentions."