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Yet another month of Iraqi turmoil?
Well over four years into the invasion, the political leaders of the USA and the UK - to name only two key political actors - continue to justify the reasons for going to war against this once-fertile riverine country...

28 July   |   2007   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... They try to convince their constituencies and the broader international community that all is not doom and gloom with Western-style democracy in the Middle East. However, despite their concerted efforts let alone their public posturing about the future, the ravages of the war continue to mount week in week out.

I need not refer my readers to the exceedingly strident public exchanges occurring in the USA between the House of Representatives and President Bush’s Administration about the future strategy of this war. Nor do I need to refer to the inability - might I also add reluctance - of the Iraqi government to take charge of the country despite the American surge when it is itself riven by self-interest, sectarian loyalty or agendas and controlled largely by myriad private militias. Nor do I need to draw the readers’ attention to the foreign mercenaries slipping into Iraq from adjacent countries (I knowingly use the plural here since I would suggest that Syria is not the only bogey-man in this regional miasma) and contributing to the blood-soaked violence.

Here in the UK, for instance, where we watch with trepidation and sadness the deaths of our soldiers as well as of Iraqis in Basra and the outlying southern regions, the Iraq Commission (UK) came up on 14th July with a series of “painful options” that seek inter alia the withdrawal of UK soldiers from Iraq once its army have sufficiently been trained to assume command on the ground.

The Policy Centre and Channel 4 in the UK had together facilitated the formation of this Commission, its range of interviews with many Iraqi and international personalities as well as its set of recommendations. Somewhat akin to the US Iraq Study Group under James A Baker III and Lee H Hamilton, this Commission concluded that Britain stood at a crossroads, and that our new Prime Minister Gordon Brown would do well to re-examine the continuing British commitment to the war. Chaired jointly by Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, Baroness Jay of Paddington and Lord King of Bridgwater, and supported by nine other members, the Commission examined all possible options for Britain's future role in Iraq, took evidence from a wide range of interviewees and incorporated in its Final Report the challenges of reconstruction, rebuilding and humanitarian relief efforts, as well as the security of the Iraqi people and British troops.

However, those political exercises notwithstanding, I would like today to highlight once more the human costs of this war upon an increasingly disempowered Iraqi people whose destiny seems to lie somewhere in that virtual space between Washington DC, London, Brussels and perhaps even the Green Zone of Baghdad. It is such human cost and harsh suffering that worry me every day - when I read the papers, watch the box or attend political conferences, panel discussions and brainstorming fora.

Last week, for instance, I came across a sobering quotation in Reuters Alert from an Um Khudar, one of many Iraqis who have fled their homes and set up their own informal displacement camps after being turned away from the overcrowded official camps. She said that we don't know what will happen tomorrow, what our destiny is, but at least on some days we can live in a peaceful environment.

Um Khudar was referring to the thousands of Iraqis who have been setting up their own improvised displacement camps across Iraq after fleeing violence in their home areas and later being turned away from already overcrowded formal camps. Following numerous futile attempts to find a safe haven for her family, she decided to set up her own camp. Her initiative has been replicated across the Babel province, in the Ninawa province in the north and in the Diyalah province in the east.

Local non-governmental groups have by and large welcomed such initiatives but have also admonished that they do not have the funds to support an increasing number of displaced families. The Iraqi Aid Association, to use one example, was upbeat about the informal camps but concerned about how the displaced people would survive after their own resources had run out. Furthermore, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration expressed its concern over individuals setting up informal displacement camps, adding that such initiatives could import more violence to safer areas in Iraq.

Mind you, much as they are helpful for desperate and frustrated ordinary Iraqis, such displacement camps could also become a factor in carving out Iraq into ethnic and sectarian groups living separately from each other. The Initial Benchmark Assessment Report, the US governmental progress report submitted periodically to Congress, included in a recent copy an assessment of how the sovereign government of Iraq was performing in its efforts to achieve a series of specific benchmarks, as well as any adjustments to strategy that may be warranted in light of that performance. It referred to the evidence that the government itself was implicated in making plans for a sectarian Baghdad and possibly for the rest of the country.

The Report also alleged that the US-backed Iraqi government had compiled target lists of Sunnis and even used fictitious charges against them in order to cleanse the security forces. Indeed, according to reporters on the ground, some parts of Baghdad are already populated purely by Shi’as, partly when Shi’a death squads have killed off their non-Shi’a residents. In neighbourhoods of the capital that are predominantly Sunni, the situation seems to be slightly different, but the Shi’as still end up leaving, mirroring the Sunni mass exodus from other zones. This is another woeful development that is not light years away from ethnic cleansing.

There are perhaps geo-strategic reasons that defy my pedestrian understanding as to why we went to war and how we find ourselves mired down in it. But there clearly are different considerations now about the future of Iraq, from the Kurdish north to the Shi’a south passing through the Sunni heartland, where neighbouring states from Syria and Iran to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are using all means - whether directly or by proxy - to augment their spheres of influence at the obvious expense of Iraqi overall stability. Such actions that could dismember Iraq into statelets are not only part of a very high-risk strategy; they are also an illustration of how the ordinary populace of decent men and women across the whole country are paying dearly its cost.

Are we too far off from the description given to Iraq this week by the journalist Robert Fisk when he called it “hell-disaster”? Sad truly that July 2007 became another month when Iraq stood helpless amidst turmoil.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2007   |   28 July


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