image of jerusalem 2013

Moving Forward by Lurching Backward?
Last week, I went to see Syriana , a film that is loosely based on the book See No Evil by ex-CIA agent Robert Bauer...

31 March   |   2006   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... The main star of this modern geo-political thriller, George Clooney, plays a grizzled CIA ground soldier in the Middle East. His character combines weariness, confusion, anger and, ultimately, re-awakened moral clarity. In one of the scenes in the film, an executive in a newly-merged oil company says to another that they have just visited what will be the biggest company in America "as long as they don't start to run cars on water and there is still chaos in the Middle East".

The film was a distressing reminder for me of all the burdens that have been heaped upon the Iraqi people since the onset of the second Gulf War on 19 March 2003, just over three long years ago. The recent statistics I saw from the Iraq Body Count project and CNN Count provided me with sobering - and many would add staggering - reading. For instance, the IBC database reports that the total of media-reported Iraqi civilian deaths to date are anything between 34,000 and 38000, whilst the coalition forces (156,000 troops are currently stationed in Iraq) have lost more than 2,520 troops - with thousands wounded on and off the battlefield. Further, 91 journalists have died during this period. The aggregate reports also added that the US spends $9 billion a month on Iraq, according to the Pentagon, excluding costs of equipment and training Iraqi forces, whereas the cost of the war to Britain so far stands at £3.1 billion.

To my mind, these facts and numbers are overwhelmingly clinical albeit relevant, but there is also a human factor that is making people wonder whether Iraq is now perched on the edge of a civil war - or at least heading in that direction. Yet, unlike the former Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who mentioned in an interview with the BBC on 19 th March that Iraq is in the middle of a civil war, I am as yet unconvinced that such a fully-fledged civil war is occurring across the country. However, as I wrote in my article Who is the enemy today in issue # 3 of SOMA, sectarian strife has become increasingly rampant over the past three years, and Iraq is staring irresponsibly into the black hole of identity politics.

How does such 'sectarian cleansing' manifest itself, particularly in the central and western parts of Iraq? Last month alone, for instance, hundreds of men were kidnapped, tortured and executed in Baghdad - with their corpses often surfacing in garbage bins, drainage ditches, minibuses and pickup trucks. No wonder then that the homicide rate has tripled from 11 to 33 a day according to military officials. In fact, a trip to Baghdad's famous spice market, Rasheed Street, would show idle shop-keepers with no custom. Besides, people are fleeing the "dangerous zones", and the provincial prices or rents - in traditionally cheap places like Nasiriyah - are now skyrocketing in unaffordable leaps.

What truly alarms me most with such murders is their sheer impunity. As Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish Member of Parliament, indicated to the New York Times on 26 th March, there are atrocities on each side. However, he then qualified, 'But what is different is when Shi'ites get killed by suicide bombs, everyone comes together to fight the Sunni terrorists. When Shi'ites kill Sunnis, there is no response, because much of this killing is done by militias connected to the government.' Indeed, the human rights office of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a mostly Sunni group, has catalogued more than 340 cases of Sunni men and a few Sunni women who were kidnapped and killed since the 22 nd of February [when the Shi'ite Askariya shrine in Samarra was wantonly destroyed by a suicide bomber] that unleashed a wave of sectarian fury that until then had been bubbling just beneath the surface. In fact, the Shi'ite Badr organisation and the Mahdi Army , the all-black foot soldiers of the Shi'ite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, were blamed for much of the bloodshed. Today, people are even singling out their Sunni or Shi'ite targets according to slight regional differences in accent, dress sense and name.

Another element exacerbating the situation on the ground is the anti-insurgent US operations against urban areas. Those operations are at times in breach of the 'doctrine of distinction' that separates civilians from combatants - as highlighted by the Geneva Conventions. Britain learnt as far back as the Boer War, and later in Malaya and Kenya, that insurgencies cannot be defeated, only doused down and eventually ended through political settlements. Area bombings, whether accidental or otherwise, would strengthen the murderous resolve of all those parties trying to further unsettle Iraq today.

As the film Syriana suggests, am I therefore to conclude that the self-evident woes facing Iraq today are due to a Western gluttony for Middle Eastern oil and to geo-political domination? To some palpable extent, this is perhaps true. But I still maintain that the rationale - and with it the tools - for extricating Iraq from its nasty and unravelling chaos is unnervingly clear. It would necessitate a politically-adept dual approach. On the one hand, there should be a credible and concerted effort to improve the lives of the Iraqi people in their daily existential needs - from water, electricity and the sewage system to prices, employment and security. On the other hand, there is an equally parallel need for the Iraqi political parties to come together in a national unity government that rises above factionalism and nurtures the broader interests of the country. Here, the Kurdish political parties must commit their considerable political leverage and experience to help improve the overall situation and coax the country back together. I must confess that all this requires an almost axiomatic paradigm shift. But in some sense this is the eleventh hour for Iraq, and my question today is whether it would draw back from the brink of self-surrender, or it would rather continue to move forward only to lurch backward?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2006   |   31 March


Print or download a copy of this article.


Google: Yahoo: MSN: