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.


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