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Memorial Prayers for Iraq!
Almost a couple of weeks ago, I promised the editor of SOMA that I would soon write about the levels of violence against minority communities in Ninewa where the carnage and bloodshed continue to outstrip those in other regions of Iraq...

20 October   |   2009   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... In addition, Arabs and Kurds remain locked in a political deadlock, and the institutional paralysis that refuses to give way threatens to undermine any real progress that Iraq could make in the future.

However, I deferred my article on Ninewa for another time and decided instead to reflect this time round about the war in Iraq that started in 2003 - six long and testing years ago. My readers might well wonder why I suddenly decided to re-visit this topic now when it has been covered time and again by so many seasoned writers and analysts. The reason is simply that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, happened to preach at a Memorial Service held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London over a week ago for the 170 British personnel who have died in the conflict. Attending the service were the grieving families of the dead soldiers as well as members of the British Royalty, the Iraqi president, members of the British armed forces as well as members of parliament and politicians from the United Kingdom and Iraq - including the current prime minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair who was one of the main architects of the war.

The Archbishop’s sermon was powerful, nuanced, evocative and moving, suggesting that those who decided on the war may have failed to consider its true implications in terms of justice and “long-term building and healing.” It also touched upon the exaggerated rhetoric in its build-up, adding that “perhaps we have learnt something, if only that there is a time to keep silence, a time to let go of the satisfyingly overblown language that is so tempting to human beings when war is in the air.”

Archbishop Rowan Williams quoted St Paul from the Christian Scriptures in order to address any underlying spiritual conflict embodied in all public choices. He spoke of “the invisible enemy [who] may be hiding in the temptation to look for short cuts in the search for justice - letting ends justify means, letting others rather than oneself carry the cost, denying the difficulties or the failures so as to present a good public face.”

Although he rightly praised the costly duty of our troops on the ground, Archbishop Rowan has in fact never hidden his personal opposition to the war in Iraq where he has previously spoken about the shortcomings of policymakers and criticised those policies as ‘ignorant’ and ‘flawed’. In fact, the overriding message at the memorial service might well have been an indication of the raw sentiments countrywide since it focused on one of the most potent biblical passages in chapter six of St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians about “spiritual wickedness in high places”. Indeed, feelings were running so high after the memorial service that the former prime minister was snubbed by the father of one of the servicemen killed in the conflict.

Although I realise that a considerable number of Iraqis - including Shi’is, Kurds and also some Sunnis - supported the US-led invasion, I think it is helpful if they too take in the levels of opposition that still percolate within the UK - and the larger EU - against it. The real costs of this war - in fact of any war - can never truly be measured in words, but one cannot overlook the colossal loss in human lives both among the British military and the Iraqi civilian population let alone the financial cost to the UK of £7.8 billion already. Here in Europe, there is an aversion to the kind of triumphalism that former US President George W Bush exposed during his presidency, and many questions are still being constantly asked about the moral values that were absent from the decision to go to a war under dubious and unconvincing pretences.

Mind you, I fully understand when some Iraqis demonstrate enthusiasm for this war since it rid them of a bloody tyrant and might even have helped them acquire some fundamental freedoms. But much as I empathise with them - and their supporters worldwide - I would also urge them to understand in return that there are many other voices who are bemoaning the sacrifices that have been visited upon Iraqis or the allied forces, and who remain decidedly uncertain about the effect of this war on global security. In fact, I believe that one of the major obstacles that will face the possible appointment of Tony Blair as president of the EU once the mechanisms of the Lisbon Treaty are in place will be his role in waging this war.

But given the realities today, no amount of soul-searching or even conniption would undo the misgivings of the past six years. This is why I suggest that Iraqis could best honour the huge sacrifices of their fellow citizens let alone allied soldiers by re-doubling their efforts at re-building the country and ensuring that its future becomes brighter than its past. So much bloodshed and devastation could best be countered by an awakening of collective and healthy unity amongst all Iraqis. This is what might help reassure the Archbishop of Canterbury and scores of other men or women that the Iraqi horizon holds some hope and peace for its citizens. Otherwise, it will have all been a costly and deadly loss, and will lead the country anew into a political labyrinth that would prove counter-productive to its communities.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2009   |   20 October


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