Sophia's Peace Work

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A recent message from a friend in Suli ... that is, Sulimaniyah (Iraqi Kurdistan)

A block or so from where I am living is a wall graffitied with a message to the United States. The US is, of course, a common subject of concern when expressing oneself with spraypaint in the Middle East. "Down with the USA" is one of the less creative slogans, but a common one that pretty much sums up the sentiment. The message around the corner reads a bit different, however: "Welcome Bush, we like the US." After 4 plus years among the Arab peoples of the Middle East I find myself among a people with very different priorities. You won't hear any cries against the imperialist aggressor and its Zionist ally here. Here the US is a liberator. Israel receives much sympathy as a fellow nation struggling to maintain itself before the Arab majority of the region. "The Arabs have 15 countries, can't we have just one of our own?" That's a sentiment you will hear on the streets of Sulaimani and Tel Aviv alike. And who will help the Kurds achieve this in the face of Arab, Turk and Iranian opposition? America. Well, in theory at least. Older generations of Kurds remember well their betrayal by the Americans on several occasions. Thousands of Kurds died as a result of American duplicity. But hope is a powerful force and today Kurds are once again placing their bets on an America that stands by a people struggling for their rights and dignity. I've never believed in such an America, but then I've never needed to.

One friend reading my emails replied that's it's nice to hear some good news coming out of Iraq . It's nice for me too. I mean Iraq is really in deep trouble, but here in Kurdistan the Kurdish Regional Government's advertising of the area under its control as "the other Iraq" isn't too much of an exaggeration. Sure, the electricity and public services are bad, major development is needed, and corruption is ever-present, but you can actually live here. And while the average person may well complain about the pace of change, things are actually generally getting better here. Kurds see this, they see a better life possible for their children. But will it last, and what does it mean for people in Kurdistan that the tired slogan of "stay the course" has finally been thrown in the trash? This was in the minds of people here when they watched the Democrats take control of Congress a couple weeks ago. Despite what Bush says, we all know that the failure of his administration in Iraq had a huge role in the Democrats' gains. US actions in Iraq under Bush and his cadre have not been guided as much by a rational foreign policy or by a genuine concern for Iraq and its people but by a mix of domestic and international politics. This goes without saying really. Bush claims to be above politics and doing what's "right" for the US and Iraq alike. I must say that believing this requires one to be almost as full of wishful thinking and self-delusion as Bush himself is.

And so all those opponents of the war out there can be self-assured that Iraq is indeed a fiasco, in part because of the politics and mismanagement of the Bush administration. But, to the Democrats among you in particular, I just ask that you not mistake your politicians as any less political animals than their opponents'. I ask you not to mistake this growing wave of opposition to the US presence in Iraq as a rational foreign policy. I ask all of you who scoffed at "stay the course" to not assume that the opposite policy is any kind of solution in Iraq. I ask you to brush away that last whiff of victory that might still hang in the air after the Democratic win in Congress and recall that this is not necessarily a victory for Iraqis. It remains to be seen how this development will affect the lives of Iraqis, who remain subject to the posturing of Democrats and Republicans alike. But be assured of this, a dismantling of Bush's policy and a withdraw of the US from this country will have its victims, and their blood will be on American hands just as much as those who have suffered since the 2003 invasion. I'm willing to bet many Kurds will be among them.

Another one of my friends joked that my emails always sound like a lecture. Sorry about that! Well, not really I guess. On a lighter note, however, I celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving yesterday with a nice group of Kurds, Americans, Kurdish-Americans and American Kurds at a home in a beautiful valley over the mountains from the city of Sulaimani where I live. The land was green from recent rain, the dirty sheep actually smelled kind of nice and the mountains that form the Iranian-Iraqi border were capped with the first snow of winter. If only life consisted of these matters alone.

There is still talk of me moving in Kurdisan myself. But I've been hearing that so long now that I just roll my eyes when it is said these days. There are, of course, logisitical delays. Housing and office space is difficult to find now with the huge influx of refugees from the south and center of the country. But strangely enough there may be resistance to the move on the part of our Baghdad staff. Moving north definitely has its problems. The Ministries are all in Baghdad and so much of our work is in the south. For arabs to move into the kurdish region they may also face problems of descrimination and additional hassles by the kurds. Still, given the situation in Baghdad these days (over 150 people killed in a single attack in Sadr City on 23 November, resulting in numerous sectarian backlashes and curfews), one would think that they might view these as a small price to pay for their lives and be more positive about the move to the north.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Changes or more of the same?

Well, there has been quite a sweep in Congress during the last election. Now the question is, what, if anything, will change? I've spoken to a few folks here in Amman and they don't think much will be different. My old economy professor in college said that the American democratic system was designed not for radical changes but only for "changes at the margin." Perhaps that is what has led to American's stability over the last 200+ years. Still sometimes you just crave change of the sweeping variety.

Will American decide to leave Iraq with Democrats in control of the House and Senate? I highly doubt it. As an Iraqi friend of mine who worked in construction told me, the Americans were investing alot of money to build new bases all over Iraq after the war in 2003 and they weren't designed to be temporary. Perhaps the Congress will force the President to simple bring troop levels down and keep the soldiers in their bases. Who knows, maybe that would be atleast an improvement over the current situation, since it is often just the very the presense on foreign troops on the streets that attracts violence.

But the violence has also changed in Iraq. When the first Lancet report came out in 2004 with the results of research conducted by John Hopkins University saying that over 100,000 Iraqis had died of violence since the 2003 war, the majority of the deaths could be laid at the doorstep of the Coalition forces (and this despite all their laser-targeted bombs and lip-service to the idea of avoiding civilian deaths and casualties). At that time, Iraqis were 58 times more likely to be victims of violence than before the war.

The latest Lancet article says now that the death count could be up to 600,000 (500 deaths by violence/day). A staggering figure that has led to a great deal of disbelief even amoung Iraqis (but there doesn't appear to be much wrong with the science or methodology of the study ... given the difficulty of doing any kind of research in Iraq at this time. The UN estimates about 100 deaths by violence/day, but it's figures as well as those from the Iraqi Ministry of Health are probably more unreliable than those reported in the Lancet article).

The following is a quote from William Arkin's article "600,000 Iraqis Killed By War, Credible?" posted on the Washington Post website, which has comments as interesting to read as the article itself:

What the Hopkins study has achieved through a tone of accuracy, great P.R.,
and a willingness to go out on a limb, is pushing the public assumptions as to estimate of civilian casualties in Iraq higher. Now editorial writers will "accept" that the number is more than 50,000, as much as 200,000 plus, somewhere lower than 600,000. What number is acceptable in the public discourse -- 50,000, 200,000, 600,000 -- doesn't necessarily make it correct though.

Perhaps Mr. Arkin's "tone of accuracy" is probably equally suspect.

Even so, the violence now is resulting more and more from sectarian violence and the general lawlessness in Iraq. Essentially George Bush and his crowd have opened a Pandora's Box that they can no longer control. After so many years of living under a violent but also repressive regime, the lid has been removed and the pot is boiling over. Such things get repeated time and again through history ... you'd think we would learn.

But if the Americans leave (and, as I said above, I doubt they will really), will the country break up? Will the south come under the sway of Iran? Will the Central and Western part of the country become an impoverished canker of continued terrorism? Will the Kurdish region attempt to secur it's own independence only to be squelched by Turkey, changing the Iraqi Kurds into "Mountian Turks"? These are all ideas that have been expressed to me in one form or another. Countries have broken up before and Iraq as a nation isn't very old.

Personally, I doubt things will go this far but if they do, I have no real faith that the U.S. will have much success stopping these trends militarily. That will take something that the U.S. government has yet to show ... a flair or respect for diplomacy.