This is an article I wrote for ROKon, an expat ‘zine in Seoul. I will post a link to my notes from this evening (which contain more information than I could include in the article) soon.
While looking for People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy on Wednesday, September 29, I run into Mini, who shows us where the lecture is. He leads Alex and me into the correct building, up a set of stairs, across a hall, back down another set of stairs, and then around a corner, where we find ourselves in a small, stuffy lecture hall. After some waiting, the speaker arrives, and there are about 20 to 25 people in all. His name is Haitham, a doctor from Baghdad. He is in Korea to visit friends that he met two years ago, when he was here to testify at a military tribunal in his capacity as doctor. The talk had been organized by Iraq Solidarity for Peace, a Korean peace group.
After introductions, he begins by outlining a picture of general Iraqi life—suffering. The two basic reasons for this are an increasingly severe lack of security and skyrocketing prices, especially for food and petrol. Where one liter of gas used to cost 3¢, now the same liter costs 40¢ and requires the buyer to wait in a queue that often exceeds seven or eight hours. Conditions had never been this severe, he says, even during the eight-year war with Iran. Health problems are increasingly worse—facilities and supplies are scarce. “Mostly we can do nothing to our patients.” He outlines three new health problems that are the result of the current war. First, starvation and malnutrition. Second, increasing rates of cancer, especially skin cancer–evidence, Haitham states, of the use of chemical weapons during the war. The third is psychological trauma, which will affect the Iraqis for generations to come.
“All America brought to Iraq is destruction […] we see death every day, blood. People starving, people dying […] But the worst thing for me as an Iraqi to see is for Iraqis to kill each other.” The main cause of suffering is the American army. It is they who impose a curfew and shoot anyone who is outside during those hours—even Iraqis who try to go to the hospital because of an emergency. “This is like living in hell.” The Americans are the ones who speak of dividing Iraq, and it is they who fuel the insurgency, because chaos is more favorable to them than a peaceful Iraq. Three cities in northern Kurd-dominated Iraq have been exempt from this curfew and stand as shining examples of what the Americans can do if peace were truly on their agenda. He dismisses claims of a civil war, attributing inter-Iraqi fighting as a small minority. The militias have a good spirit and represent resistance in Iraq, while those who attack fellow Iraqis: “They are few.” They are also the poor and uneducated, he says. He also dismisses concerns that the Kurds, who have not had a lucky history in Iraq or in any other part of the world, and who are also the largest ethnic group without a nation, would come under attacks from Iraqis if the Americans leave, taking their protection with them. He dismisses Iranian influence on Iraqi Shiites in general and Iraqi Shiite government officials in particular, saying that it is not significant. He also dismisses the conflicts between the Shiites and the Sunnis as inflated, saying that ordinary Iraqis see themselves as Iraqis first and Muslims second. Shiites and Sunnis live together, work together, get married.
“With America still inside of Iraq, there no hope for peace inside Iraq.” He does not pretend that there won’t be problems once the Americans pull out, but is firm in his belief that with time, the Iraqi people will unite and “learn to love one another.”