Six years in Iraq: three American stories
A soldier, a reconstruction expert, and a peace activist tell of how Iraq has changed – and what more needs to be done.
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Once again in Iraq, Naar-Obed is impressed not by any progress she sees, but by the challenges Iraq still faces. Iraq’s sectarian tensions eased when ethnic cleansing led to migration and segregation. But the underlying tensions among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds remain.Skip to next paragraph
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“There may be a current marked reduction in violent acts [because of the new segregation of sectarian populations], but there has been little in the way of political or personal reconciliation,” she says by phone and e-mail.
Currently in the Kurdish north, she says she senses “great fear and concern about what will happen when the walls that physically separate people come down, and when the forces that keep those walls erected leave.”
The one unequivocally positive outcome Naar-Obed sees from six years of conflict is that Saddam Hussein no longer rules the country. She didn’t fully grasp the importance of this, she says, until her Christian Peacekeepers Team moved out of Baghdad to the Kurdish town of Suleimaniyah.
“I don’t think I understood the depth of [Saddam Hussein’s] brutality until our team moved up to the Kurdish north and began to learn about the plight of the Iraqi Kurds,” she says.
Yet according to Naar-Obed, even Iraqi Kurds who once revered the US for toppling Mr. Hussein are now disillusioned. They resent US support for Turkey, which is pursuing Kurdish rebels into Iraq.
“Kurds who once flew American flags alongside the Kurdish flag and named their children George [Bush] … now curse US policy and curse themselves for counting on the US to be their allies,” she says.
Nor does she view the recent provincial elections optimistically, as many others have. “Actually, fraud ran rampant throughout the provinces,” she says, citing cases of large numbers of Iraqis denied the right to vote based on technicalities or the disqualification of entire displaced populations.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki exhibits “increasingly abusive and dictatorial-like behaviors,” particularly regarding women’s rights and the rights of the Iraqi Kurds, she adds.
Despite her bleak views of the US presence here, Naar-Obed says that America’s six years in Iraq have brought her to the conclusion that America does have an important international role to play – if America changes its approach to the world.
“We [Americans] have a lot of resources and talents, if they could be used for the good of the world instead of the good of the superpower,” she says.
In some ways it’s a view that is not so far removed from what Bowers saw on the streets of Fallujah.
Those experiences have been incorporated into a new counterinsurgency model implemented by Gen. David Petraeus, emphasizing a “public security first” approach. The idea is to secure the trust of the civilian population and a nation-building approach based on work – two lessons the US has supposedly learned from its years in Iraq.
Pointing to her own experience, Naar-Obed says the Iraqis are looking for a helping hand to establish peace and reconnect to the world.
“These people who were ostracized and isolated from the international community for so long have someone who can hold out a hand of friendship from the West,” she says. “I see the impact in their eyes, it’s a gift that I as one individual can offer here.”