U.S. Democracy In Iraq: Segregated Bathrooms genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

Segregated

It seems that each day brings a new report from Iraq which leaves me wondering what we're thinking and what we hope to achieve. The latest comes from the McClatchy News Service and it involves segregated bathroom facilities on U.S. bases. Much like the United States prior to the civil rights era, signs are posted on the bathrooms telling Iraqi's that they are prohibited from using the same latrines as their American counterparts.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq — The sign taped to the men's latrine is just five lines:

"US MILITARY CONTRACTORS CIVILIANS ONLY!!!!!"

It needed only one: "NO IRAQIS."

Here at this searing, dusty U.S. military base about four miles west of Baqouba, Iraqis — including interpreters who walk the same foot patrols and sleep in the same tents as U.S. troops — must use segregated bathrooms.

Another sign, in a dining hall, warns Iraqis and "third-country nationals" that they have just one hour for breakfast, lunch or dinner. American troops get three hours. Iraqis say they sometimes wait as long as 45 minutes in hot lines to get inside the chow hall, leaving just 15 minutes to get their food and eat it.

It's been nearly 60 years since President Harry Truman ended racial segregation in the U.S. military. But at Forward Operating Base Warhorse it's alive and well, perhaps the only U.S. military facility with such rules, Iraqi interpreters here say.

Other soldiers traced the regulations to what they called cultural differences between the Iraqis and the Americans.

"We've had issues with locals," said Staff Sgt. Oscar Garcia, who mans Warhorse's administrative hub. "It's not because we're segregating."

But the Iraqis who're paid $80,000 to $120,000 a year for their interpreting services are offended.

"It sucks," Ahmed Mohammed, 30, said of the latrine policy. He called the signs — in English and Arabic — "racist."

"I live in the same tent with 80 Americans," he said.

"On one hand we're asking Iraqis to help us," often at great risk, said Laila al Qatami, spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington. "But at the same time we're saying, 'We want to keep you at a distance.' It's a mixed message we're sending.

"I don't understand having separate bathrooms. It seems to go against everything that the United States stands for."

So while officials cite security concerns as one of the reason for segregating restrooms, we have Iraqi's living in the same quarters as Americans. Should we interpret this to mean that terrorists only attack shared bathrooms...not shared living quarters? The inconsistency is obvious and no doubt the Iraqi's are aware of the clear hypocrisy being demonstrated by the policy.

When I read such stories, the first thing that crosses my mind is that there must be someone on the base near the top of the chain of command who has issues with the Iraqi's...or stated more bluntly...someone with authority must be a prejudiced bigot. I say as much because the story seems to suggest that the practice isn't carried out on all of the bases found in Iraq.

While one might be happy to know that the policy at Warhorse doesn't appear to be an established standard; one must ask why our military leadership isn't monitoring these bases and making certain that such practices do not exist.

Day after day we hear about our efforts to win the support of the Iraqi people as we attempt to bring security to the war torn nation. How this situation in Baqouba is helping in that effort is beyond me. Even more concerning is not knowing how many similar situations are being allowed to drive a wedge between the United States and the people of Iraq.

Tagged as: Democracy, Iraq, McClathy News, Segregation, U.S. Military

Daniel DiRito | August 4, 2007 | 10:07 AM
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