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15. March 2006

Manal © FoG

Manal Omar, Women for Women International and Women without Borders, Baghdad/Amman.

Iraq - There is little hope to grasp at...

A letter from Manal Omar/Iraq, February 2006

Manal Omar is Iraq country director for Women for Women International and cooperating with Women without Borders for a long time.

Dear All,
It has been a long time since I have sent out one of my mass messages. Many of those on my list have been emailing me, asking why I have stopped writing. The truth of the matter is that I used to write to try and keep the pulse of hope beating, to get the news of what was happening in Iraq out, to share whatever success story from the people. It is no secret that this has become more and more difficult. And I have been afraid to write and to admit that the hope we have been clutching over the past couple of years is becoming almost impossible to grasp. Nonetheless the Iraqi’s still try, and are determined to try and change what appears to be an inevitable fate of continuous war and tragedy.

The bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006 is clearly not the first sign of civil war and sectarian strife where nothing is sacred. But it has proven that the question of a civil war is no longer up for debate. The debate has shifted to how bad and how long. Will the government be able to respond quickly and create an internal coalition of Iraqi unity? Or will Iraq be the next Lebanon? And what extent of the civil war has international components? This debate is more real for the Iraqis, because over the past year the situation continues to go from bad to worse.

Most Iraqis are not surprised by a civil war. In fact, most of us close to Iraq have been speaking about the undeclared civil war for a long time now. As most of you know, my wedding was canceled late last year due to a death in my husband’s family. It shook us to the very core. I never mentioned the details, because until today it is still too difficult to talk about. The reality is my husband’s brother-in-law was one of the many causalities of the sectarian tension mixed with local mafia style gang banging.The details are written in the story from the deceased (may he rest in peace)’s wife – which I attach. Whenever I tell his story to an Iraqi, the first question they ask me is “what was a shiaa man thinking of going into Tarmiah?”. His death was on of the incidents that resulted in a full blown tribal war between the Tarmiah area (mostly sunni) and Kaadhamiyah area (mostly shiaa).  Please read about it here.
If districts in Baghdad were resorting into local feuds, you can only imagine what was happening on the level of governates and rural areas. Entire areas throughout the country were being labeled as “no go area” for shiaas or sunnis, depending which local tribe was in control.

Most internationals are also not surprised by a civil war.  But I think it is safe to say we are pissed off.Those in Iraq in 2003 can attest to the fact that the sectarianism simply was not at the level it is in 2006. Something went wrong.  And what went wrong was mainly from the international community. I will not go into detail, because there are countless reports and recommendations (just look at the International Crisis Group) that can help pinpoint how we dug our own grave.  But unfortunately, it is the Iraqis that will have to lay in it.  The Iraqi people will continuously pay the price for the international community’s mistakes. 
As Iraq spiralled into chaos, the divisions and schisms among the communities that were created were predictable.  But as one of my colleagues pointed out that perhaps the most painful fact is that at one point they were preventable.  And therefore are criminal.
Sometimes when I look back at the hope and optimism that I once had, I feel betrayed for daring to believe.  A part of me feels angry – like I was tricked into buying into a plan others knew was doomed for failure.  When discussions of civil war first started two years ago, I was aggravated and insisted the majority of Iraqis would rise above the sectarianisms.  A young woman from Tikrit wrote to me the same thought – praying Iraqis would be able to remember that the strength of their country was in their mosaic of religions and ethnicities. 
People I argue with now say I have been proven wrong.  I use her words and countless other Iraqi’s to insist, if left to the Iraqi’s they would have indeed risen above it.  The countless international interventions – from neighboring countries to the coalition forces – destabilized Iraq in a time when they needed support from the world; or at the very least to be left alone.  These interventions led to the many signs that Iraq was growing further and further apart. 
Most Iraqis feel their country is unrecognizable, and as grateful as they continue to be for the collapse of the Baathist regime, they dream of signs that their great nation is on the road to recovery. For many, this bombing crushed that dream. 

In my apartment building in Jordan, only two out of the 12 apartments are occupied by Jordanians.  The rest are Iraqi.  Out of the 10 apartments, 8 have come to Amman after a family member was killed or in most cases kidnapped.  Now, the entire building is in mourning over what is happening in Iraq.  Just a couple of months ago, the halls and the parking lot were filled with quips about the Saddam trial, and the discussion was who would be going back to Iraq first.  Now none of us can speak about going back to Iraq now.  The sad reality is that most of us still don’t believe we have seen the worse yet.  We struggle to find comforting and encouraging words, and with a stubborn tenacity try to clutch onto any remaining element of hope. 


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