05/15/2004, 00.00
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Listening to the Iraqi people

In the whirl of clashes, torture, abuse, decapitation, attacks and election statements, ordinary Iraqi needs seem to get forgotten. Yahia Said, a researcher, unveils some of the misperceptions of problems in Iraq.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The hatred Iraqis have toward Coalition troops has nothing to do with photos of hostages being tortured and humiliated. Rather, there feel deluded by the lack of peace one year after the fall of Hussein's regime.

What many Western journalists call the "resistance", for the inhabitants of Baghdad this is simply terrorism. Even Muqtada Al-Sadr is considered a "hot head" and most people would want him leave Iraq.

It is true, however, that Iraqis love the Americans ever the less and sympathize much more with those they fight against. This is so since they are tired of hearing so many failed promises. Iraqis now hope not to start a massive uprising against occupying forces, but to find a way to straighten things out.

"People are dead tired of violence and instability," said Iraqi fellow at the London School of Economics, Yahia Said. The Iraqi scholar returned to his homeland after 23 years of exile to work on the Global Governance project. The project, aimed at improving civil society, combines efforts from academicians, politicians, activists, mayors, women and youth from Europe and Iraq. Thanks to this group the country's new constitution allowed women participate in politics and the legal system refused the Shariah as a basis for codifying legislation.   

Yahia Said's comments are published on www.opendemocracy.org. His thoughts are the fruit of an interview he had with another researcher, Caspar Henderson, on May 6.  Both men maintain that everything said in the interview is true to life.

Said's comments shed light on many aspects of the drama in Iraq and often reveal the short-sighted way in which most Western journalists and politicians view the problems.

For example, according to Said, the diminished respect for the American was a larger contributor to the attacks in Fallujah than were the photos of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib detention center.

"People are furious. There has been quite a pivotal point sometime between the last time I was here in January and now. A lot of it has to do with Fallujah, the al-Sadr insurgency, the so-called uprising. Fallujah was like the last straw. It was the last act of recklessness by the coalition that Iraqis could handle... Every Iraqi starts the discussion with how fed up they are, and how they feel. …People in Iraq were ready to put up with a lot of things and part of the anger with coalition troops is not against occupation as such but because of their failure to reduce the violence. And if their presence is causing the violence to escalate as many people believe then what's the point, why should they put up with an occupation?"

It was precisely for the desire to end the "horrendous disorder" in which country finds itself in that Iraqis are willing to allow soldiers of the old regime to take part in public security forces.

 "I think there is a misperception by some parties looking at Iraq from the outside who view only the occupying forces as a problem. … A big part of the violence is a terrorist problem, a security problem that is as much a headache for, you know, an Iraqi doctor or engineer as it is for the coalition troops," Said commented.

When asked if it was possible to make a distinction between "nationalist resistance" and those who promote "terrorism", Said responded: "You can call terrorists people who kill civilians. Nobody calls them resistance. Nobody in Iraq would call the guys who bombed Karbala and Irbil, or Basra recently, nobody calls these guys resistance. Well, maybe some Arabic news channels would call them resistance. Al-Jazeera would call them resistance".

Regarding Muqtada Al Sadr's resistance forces, Said commented: "Some people, even amongst intellectuals and activists, have warm feelings towards him because he has come up with a nationalist position they agree with. The coincidence of the southern uprising and the Fallujah uprising has made people feel very warm and fuzzy about the fact that there's a solidarity between Sunni and Shi'a – debunking the myth about sectarian divisions in Iraq. These are some of the positive notes you hear about al-Sadr."

When asked about the Iraqi reaction to photos of the abused hostages, Said stressed that "the reception was surprisingly low-key in Iraq. Part of the reason was that rumours and tall stories, as well as true stories, about abuse, mass rape, and torture in the jails and in coalition custody have been going round for a long time. So compared to what people have been talking about here the pictures are quite benign. There's nothing unexpected. In fact what most people are asking is: why did they come up now? People in Iraq are always suspecting that there's some scheming going on, some agenda in releasing the pictures at this particular point."

What is important is that people have "total trust" in Coalition military and government leaders. Yet "people no longer believe in them," he said.  

Caspar Henderson then asked whether Iraqis "were happy with UN envoy's (Lakhdar Brahimi) plan and if people had any hope in a internationally led UN peacekeeping force. Said responded that people were interested in anything that makes the situation finish soon and that any UN intervention would have to keep a check on Americans breaking rules.

Said ruled out that Iraq is heading toward civil war. He say that people seem to think that all the talk about Sunnis, Shiites and ethnic group quotas on the PGC is only an imperialist attempt to divide and conquer.  Yet Said says that the Coalition refuse to think there is anything like a civil war going on. The Arab-Kurd clashes that erupted in Kirkuk and Mossul, he said, were defined as "local conflicts" due to the return of many refugees uprooted during the Hussein era.   

In Kirkuk there were hundred of thousands of Kurds wanting to return home and it Shiite areas there millions of Muslims who fled to Iran but now want to come back to their homeland. Still "it is false to talk about civil war," Said claims that Colaition forces think.

However, there are ever more Iraqis united on two points: "the desire to end violence and the desire toe end the occupation (of their country)"

Lastly Said spoke about how so-called "armed resistance" concerns the above points: "The masterminds of that, maybe not the rank and file, are consciously seeking to disrupt construction work. There is a huge damage to the whole reconstruction effort. The kidnapping of foreigners is part of it. 800 Russians who are critical for fixing a lot of the Russian imported power stations have left the country, and now the CPA is scrambling to find Iraqi engineers to replace them to do the job and to restore electricity. And then everyone turns around and accuses the Americans of failing to restore the electricity. There's a circular situation there. Who do you blame, the resistance or the Americans? The easiest thing is to blame the Americans."

Yet the presence of coalition troops has not been a complete failure, he said: "What is also being under-appreciated is how much effort the coalition and ordinary Iraqi engineers, doctors, and policemen have put into rebuilding, and how much they've done to restore electricity, to restore the economy. A lot of the good news gets buried and forgotten because the next atrocity comes up or because of what they've done with the detainees. But it's not all in the same direction. It's a very complex situation. It's not good versus evil."

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