Saturday, June 1, 2013
Notes from the Field in Iraq: Reflections in a Time of Violence
As I sit in front of my computer, reading the news about the escalation in violence in Iraq, my heart fills with sadness. According to UN reports, more than a thousand people have been killed in May. Iraq is not a distant, Middle East country, full of Muslim extremists. It is the place I live, work, and wake up every morning. I live in Sulaimaniya, far from the violence, but have colleagues and friends in Baghdad and I hear their frustration, and feel their fears of an escalating conflict. I also know that is it not a simple Sunni/Shia conflict as it is portrayed in the mainstream media. It is full of complications and question marks.
There are two main political considerations: domestic and regional. On the one hand is the failure of the Shia/Sunni/Kurdish groups to develop a form of government that reduces marginalization and exclusion of some groups and instead creates division. Maliki’s centralization and consolidation of power undermines the authority of other groups, which serves only to weaken democracy and increases the probability of conflict. There is also the increased use of identity politics to access political power. Maliki on one side is accusing the Parliament of obstructing his government performance and accuses the legislature of the security breakdown. On the other the Speaker of the Parliament, Nujaifi is accusing Maliki of controlling security and political decisions. Then the regional game: the inability to reach internal solutions leads to increased power of radical groups which see internal conflict as part of the wider conflict and gives legitimacy to the Sunni-Shia narrative. Then you have Baghdad accusing the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of being secessionist and using Turkey to overcome the drawbacks of its land locked and troubled relationship with Baghdad. Increased tensions between Ankara and Baghdad are because of Ankara’s support to the KRG. Baghdad claims that KRG’s autonomy threatens Iraq’s unity.
As a human rights activist living in Iraq, it is tough to see that you work every day to protect other activists, to advance rights, to demand freedom, and yet, the situation seems all but better. What have politicians and people in power put forward as solutions? One side accuses the other and they just fuel the sectarian speech. They are not ready to leave their political differences aside to work for a safe, and democratic Iraq. Why, because they benefit by this state of chaos, they get to stay in power and continue to rip personal benefits at the expense of Iraqis.
I call for Iraqis to stop thinking on what divides them and start thinking on what unites them. To put an end to sectarianism, division, and ethnic divide. This is not a call for arms, is a call to re-think the Iraq that we want to see and live in. What is the Iraq we wish to leave for future generations? Iraqis have lived at war for 40 years. They are resilient and strong people. In fact, I am working on a daily basis with great people who want to advance their country, have equal gender rights, a democratic, and a participatory democracy.
There are people in Baghdad, Erbil, Basra and in every Iraqi city that work every day to advance rights and freedoms in Iraq. I work with some of them. I hear their frustrations during this time of increasing violence; their work like mine is being tested. Moreover, some of my colleagues are working on an Iraqi Social Forum under the theme: Another Iraq is Possible. Now, more than ever, they need our support and solidarity. To plan such an event is very challenging under the current circumstances. Now more than ever, they need international solidarity, to share experiences from others that have succeeded, that have rebuilt their countries, that have overcome differences and have decided live together.
What has Maliki’s government brought to Iraq? Peace? Development? Democracy? Democracy does not happen overnight (as some might have thought), it is a process. In order to have democracy there must be the economical and social infrastructure in place to support it. That requires people participation and people need to feel safe, and that they have a legitimate government that is able to protect them. This will not be achieved under the banner of sectarianism or accusations but united and working to bring about justice and an end to violence.
I really believe another Iraq is possible, I believe in the power of people. Iraq has young people full of dreams, people who believe in human rights and justice, and the environment, who do not buy this sectarian propaganda. Young, intelligent people that are capable of constructing their future, and using Iraqi resources to the best of its potential, and to compete in the global market of ideas. These are the kind of people whom the government is afraid of. Lets not be afraid, let’s start this revolution of ideas and to think how to rebuild our country. Unite and conquer, that should be our banner for a new Iraq.