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Is Today’s Dream Tomorrow’s Nightmare?
Over the past few short years, I have often written about my hopes for a renewed and re-invigorated Iraq...

3 November   |   2008   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... And whilst I have been of late quite glad to note the signs portending that the tide might be turning in favour of greater stability, many setbacks have still dragged me back to the sad reality that Iraq remains an anaemic patient in need of acute care.

One such clear sign of hope was the endorsement by the Iraqi Parliament of the Provincial Elections Law. After seven months of endless political entrechats, negotiation prevailed over violence and the law was passed unanimously by 190 members of parliament. Like many other pundits, I hoped it would help heal the deep-running political, religious and gender-based fissures in the country and shore up the noteworthy and recent security achievements. However, the concomitant setback was almost too quick coming with the removal of Article 50 from an earlier version of the draft law that had secured 13 seats for Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks and other minorities in six provinces. This “dark cloud”, as the UNAMI representative described the minority issue at a news conference, alarmingly manifested itself again over the past few weeks, when Iraqi Christians in the northern city of the Mosul were wantonly targeted by a systematic and deadly violence ostensibly seeking to oust them from their homes and lands.

With more than half the Iraqi Christian population of 800,000 having already fled the country since 2003, witnesses reported last month the murder of Christians and the displacement of well nigh 2200 families (roughly 13,000 individuals) to the Nineveh Plain (an area wedged between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria and close to Turkey), to nearby towns and villages such as Hamdaniya or Qaraqush and to the Douma and Sayyide Zeinab suburbs of Damascus or the northern city of Aleppo. Although such incidents are occurring with unsettling frequency, it is still a bit early for me to work out the true identity of those malefactors. However, there is a lot of hearsay about self-appointed demiurges working to destabilise the country and deflect its priorities from collective interest to bigoted self-interest.

Yet, with Baghdad and Mosul bearing deep-vein and time-long Christian roots, it remains imperative that this long-suffering and largely peaceful minority, as much as other minority communities across the country, be provided with appropriate legal rights and safety nets. This is quintessential not solely for the minority communities themselves but more so for the future of the whole of Iraq. And whilst I remain resolutely against the formation of auto-defensive Christian militias in Iraq that might yield tactical results but questionable long-term strategic gains, I hold the Iraqi government and occupying forces responsible for ensuring that those communities are not besieged for political, religious, ethnic or mercenary reasons and that their statutory rights are secured adequately, clearly and promptly.

Iraq today faces manifold fractures that stunt its growth into a self-sufficient and independent nation of all its citizens. The core issues comprising Kirkuk and other disputed territories, revenue-sharing and the hydrocarbons law, as well as federalism and constitutional revisions, are existential perils staring Iraqis in the face almost daily. A semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, along with the Kurds’ larger hopes to expand areas under their control, are being countervailed by a more assertive central government that tries to regain the country - as evidenced by the recent military operations in Khanaqin in the north-eastern Diyali province. Bluntly put, Iraqi Arabs and Kurds are at loggerheads, whilst Iraqi Sunnis and Shi’is are vying for power, and everyone is being aided and abetted by outside powers. Every Iraqi dream we dare celebrate today hastily becomes a chilling forerunner of tomorrow’s nightmare.

The recent sectarian incidents only come to undermine further an already fragile Iraqi sense of nationhood. My own take is that the residents of Mosul, whose provincial government has been controlled by the KDP since 2005, remain ambivalent and fearful in equal measure about their choices. The Sunni residents would in all likelihood opt for Arab control, whilst the Kurds seem unwilling to abandon the city until they reclaim five areas in the Nineveh Province which remains a focal point for a number of Sunni insurgent groups linked to al-Qa’eda in Mesopotamia.
Many decades ago, [Sir] Winston Churchill referred quite disparagingly to “the thoughtless deserts of Mesopotamia”. Today, an unfortunate concatenation of circumstances threatens Iraq: American moral authority has weakened due to a series of bad judgments from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, whilst terror groups are lasciviously eyeing the country for further mayhem, and post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi signs for integrity via inclusiveness are fading away.

What I fear is that those so-called ‘thoughtless deserts’ are witnessing their collective unmaking - not only by creating an existential cul de sac for minority communities, but much more so for the whole political project labelled Iraq!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2008   |   3 November


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