Belfast or Sarajevo? No, Iraq

Iraq is now a safari run amok, where there lurk soldiers, guards of various companies, mercenaries of variegate extractions, militias of any religious or political ideology, as well as many versions and perversions of al-Qaida mujahidin. All of them hunt the poor ordinary Iraqi dreaming only of a normal life, at least as normal as it could have been under the cruel Saddam. Saddam could handle a gun, as we know, but, from the prospective of the game, one hunter who is more or less predictable is better than many who shoot indiscriminately at anything that moves.

Day after day, Baghdad is stained in fresher blood than it had ever been before. Going to buy food, searching in desperation for the few medicines left, looking for drinkable water, all these also mean facing possible death for the ordinary Iraqi. An Iraqi friend of mine, with a dark sense of humour, recently asked me if I thought that, with the right campaign, the WWF might consider to include Iraqis among the species facing extinction. This is an example of the trust that Iraqi people can be expected to have in the power of the absentee UN to save them from this collective sacrifice to force-imported democracy and freedom. Indeed, a higher number of Iraqis, year after year, are asking whether democracy is not really the deadly Western disease that the more radical preachers describe to them, a rebounding Black Death instead of a legitimate political process for achieving ultimate freedom that grants happiness and economic success.

Yet it is not only the loss of human life which has upset so many Iraqis. My Baghdadi friends, before the war, showed a great love for their city, which could only compete with mine for Florence. The city represented the soul of its people. Today the occupation of Baghdad is turning it into 1970’s Belfast. Walls (including the coalition of the willing concrete brigade walling off protected areas), concrete barriers, and cement blocks are transforming the city into a maze with no way out. The aim, although often covered with the excuse of security, is to divide and isolate the Sunni minority, collectively punished for the widespread insurgency. Sunni Iraqis in Baghdad would now have to pass through gates and checkpoints. The operation to enclose the Sunni neighbourhood will transform the enclave into a big prison.

This is clearly reminiscent of the ‘peace-lines’ that the British forces built in Northern Ireland to divide the Catholic from the Protestant communities, but which soon ghettoized the Catholics. Instead of promoting peace, they created more tension and violence, thus marking in visible concrete the British failure to resolve the Northern Irish issue. It is not dividing the communities which can help them to reform links and deconstruct sectarian divisions, which have spread like cancer far beyond traditional antagonism between Shi’a and Sunni. The divisions will serve a purpose. The walls, when people become used to them, could facilitate future division of Iraq into independent states, with the Sunni population being left in the resource-poorest regions.

Whoever knows Iraq and its history, as well as the historical struggles of Iraqi people, can detect a strong decrease in nationalist sentiment, which is now reduced to rhetoric. The idea of one Iraq and a united Iraqi people, although always more of a slogan than a sustainable reality since Faisal was installed by the British, might as well be Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Everyone knows that the occupation cannot last forever. The question which now arises is are we going to leave Baghdad as a new Belfast or new Sarajevo?

Gabriele Marranci

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