Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's The Chicago Way

Some thoughts on this day, the thirtieth anniversary of the death of long-time Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley.

First comes news that our esteemed "President" has determined that the resounding defeat his party suffered in last month's elections was a mandate for an escalation in the war. Funny, here I was thinking it was a pretty clear mandate to start working on getting the hell out. Silly me.

"W" needs to give me a call-- I am the man with the plan. Here's the guy I think they need to put in charge over there: my fellow Chicagoan Aiham Alsammarae, the former electricity minister for Iraq.

Excerpted from the New York Times:

December 20, 2006
Escaped Minister Says He Fled Iraqi Jail ‘the Chicago Way’

BAGHDAD, Dec. 19 — In a lengthy phone conversation on Tuesday, the former Iraqi electricity minister who escaped from a Baghdad jail on Sunday ridiculed American and Iraqi officials and said he fled because he did not trust the police and had received a tip that he would be assassinated within days.

The official, Aiham Alsammarae, who telephoned this reporter, said, without offering proof, that he was already outside Iraq after finagling his way aboard a flight at the Baghdad International Airport.

Incredulous Iraqi security and justice officials disputed parts of his account, saying that a figure as recognizable as Mr. Alsammarae could not possibly have slipped onto a flight when he was the subject of a manhunt.

Mr. Alsammarae, who holds dual American and Iraqi citizenship, scoffed at those assertions and said they were made by officials who spent too much time inside the protected Green Zone in central Baghdad and did not understand how the country really worked.

“Those suckers who are sitting in the Green Zone, they cannot go out and see the people they are governing?” asked Mr. Alsammarae, whose unmistakable speech patterns in English reflect his Iraqi and American backgrounds. “This is a joke.

“So why I cannot take the airport? It’s not because I am a smart cookie. Any Iraqi can do it, even if they have 10,000 court orders against him. This is Iraq.”

One fact Iraqi officials could not dispute: Mr. Alsammarae, who had been jailed four months ago on corruption charges stemming from deals made when he was the electricity minister from August 2003 to May 2005, was still free.

If correct, Mr. Alsammarae’s tale of escape would mean that he not only worked his way free of the Iraqi police guarding the jail but also eluded the thousands of Western and Iraqi security forces stationed in the dense maze of checkpoints and blast walls in the Green Zone, which is the fortified heart of the American occupation and the Iraqi government.

When asked how he could have pulled off such an escape, Mr. Alsammarae, who moved to Chicago in 1976 but returned to Iraq just after the invasion, laughed uproariously for 20 seconds. Then, recycling a famous line from an exchange about Al Capone in “The Untouchables,” Mr. Alsammarae said with undisguised glee: “The Chicago way.”

Why should Mr. Alsammarae be put in charge? For starters, if he did indeed elude all of those people, he's demonstrated he's smart enough for the job. And he's obviously learned from his residence in Chicago, "the City that Works." For you non-Chicagoans out there, the phrase has a double meaning to us-- for one, the work ethic is alive and well here. We all work-- some of us two jobs. The other meaning is that in the end, things get done here. Yes, a little corruption here and there, but in the end, the garbage gets picked up, the snow gets plowed-- with one notable exception-- proving that Chicagoans are forgiving of corruption, but unforgiving of incompetence. When Alsammararae was in charge, yes, there was probably corruption, but there was actually electrical service in Iraq. There is very little now, as the New York Times reported yesterday.

Think of the implications of having a Chicagoan in charge over there:

Political Stability-- Our own King Richard the Second, Richard M. Daley has just announced he is running again. His victory, pretty much guaranteed, will mean that his reign will surpass even that of his father. His father, Mayor Richard J. Daley was mayor for 21 years. If Mr. Alsammarae has a son, we can look forward to at least 4 decades of political stability in Iraq!

New Holidays-- Whenever we have a big increase in an ethnic group here in Chicago, we honor them with a new holiday. And who doesn't like a day off of work? Nothing would settle those ol' Sunnis down like a brand new holiday honoring one of their dead heroes. I mentioned our beloved Pulaski Day here in Chicago, to honor the esteemed Revolutionary War hero Casamir Pulaski. God bless that man-- he gave up his life in 1779 so that me and other civil servants in Chicago could have a day off in March every year.

Clear Deliniation of Police Duties-- An example-- during the riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention, Mayor Daley the First famously stated: "Gentlemen, get the thing straight-- The policeman isn't there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder."

An Increase in Democratic Participation-- Here in Chicago, everybody votes-- even the dead. And some citizens get to vote more than once!. To quote "hizzoner" Mayor Richard J. Daley's command to his followers: "Vote early and often."

And of course we know that the snow will always get removed in a timely manner in Baghdad if Alsammarae is put in charge.


lulu said...

Mike Royko said about Daley and Chicago: [L]oyalty to the family, neighbors, old buddies, the corner grocer. You do something for someone, they do something for you. If somebody is sick, you offer the family help. If someone dies, you go to the wake and try to lend comfort. The young don't lip off to the old, everybody cuts his grass, takes care of his property. And don't play your TV too loud. ... [H]e didn't trust outsiders, whether they were long-hairs against war, black preachers against segregation, reformers against his Machine, or community groups against his policies. This was his neighborhood-ward-city-county, and nobody could come in and make noise. He'd call the cops. Which he did.

(Thanks to

One of the things I like best about living in Chicago is that sense of neighborhood and community, and I think Daley was responsible for that in a lot of ways. He was responsible for a lot of bad stuff too, but the city does work.

Bubs said...

It's amazing, isn't it? We live in what is, without a doubt, THE most corrupt region in the United States, Cook County/Chicago, and yet it's such a livable place.

So clearly, what the Iraqis need to figure out, is how to make their endemic corruption work for them.

Toccata said...

This is my first click over here and wow, what an interesting visit! I will definitely be back.

Alasdair said...

What a great story! In my line of work, you just salivate when you see a chance to say "undisguised glee"!

And I like your nomination for who to run the show... I think that the unsaid message (Yeah, I know, you want to send a message, go to Western Union) in this story is that stopping one motivated person is virtually impossible for an unaided bureaucracy (aka Iraqi and American security and military forces).


Also, Bubs, have you been to Louisiana?

Bill Baar said...

Chicago way is right. Alsammarae is wanted her for questioning on political corruption involving our Democratic Gov, his chief fund raiser Tony Rezko (Rezko who helped Sen. Obama buy a house). Rezko and Alsammarae our friends.

It will be interesting to see our Sen's Durbin and Obama say anything about returning Alsammarae to Iraq.

Johnny Yen said...

Lulu- I grew up reading Royko-- I even backtracked and read his old columns (the book Slats Grobnik and other friends.) I loved the way he took swipes at everybody-- no sacred cow was safe.

Bubs- I guess that's the difference between Cook County and New Orleans-- the difference between functional corruption and disfunctional corruption

Toccata- Thanks! Welcome!

Alasdair-- I actually didn't think of that, but you're absolutely right.

Bill- Yeah-- maybe we can save them cells next to Republicans Gov. Ryan and former tollway chief Bob Hickman (who was formerly the mayor of my college town). The beauty of Illinois is that the parties seem to have a gentleman's agreement on graft and corruption. The Dems get Cook county and the Republicans get the whole rest of the state.

Bubs said...

I almost mentioned southern Louisiana as being the only place in the US as corrupt as Cook County. Johnny hits it right, though, we're a functional corrupt, whereas southern Louisiana is a dysfunctional kleptocracy with charming regional dialect and great hospitality.

Johnny Yen said...

Wait, that description almost exactly matches a couple of my college girlfriends....

Alasdair said...

I think Bubs has a new slogan for Louisiana tourism. That's fantastic!

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