A Tale of Two Springs

Facilitating peace, development and banking in Mosul, Iraq

Iraqi Election: A View From Mosul

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Collecting information from various sources in our region, a colleague of mine filled out her hourly reporting sheet, monitoring the initial round of voting this afternoon. She called her contacts, mostly local political and community leaders, and reported to us what she heard. On one sheet she wrote: “All reports are peaceful and voting activity continues without incident.” And on the next line: “Sheikh’s home in Mosul bombed this afternoon, destroying two adjacent homes and injuring at least five.” That, for me, is the Iraqi election. Can the democratic dreams of the masses outshine the radical nighmares of a few?

If you had been with me last Thursday evening, you would be an optimist for Iraqi democracy. I sipped tea with a man I call Sheikh Abdi in his hometown, along the Tigris riverbed, very much in the Sunni heartland. Sheikh Abdi lives in a place where many flags of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party still fly, where some yearn for the return of the Hussein years and curse the arrival of the American occupiers. Sheikh Abdi is a makhtar, an elected elder, who appears to be well regarded by his people.

To say Sheikh Abdi embraces democracy is an understatement. As we discussed private sector agricultural programs and a banking initiative that are generating significant excitement in his community, Sheikh Abdi was eager to discuss politics. In the election this weekend, who do we support as Americans? Who should he support?

Nearly everyone here wants to talk politics. It is a bit stunning to see the openness of expression, just a few years following the fall of a regime that for decades made freedom of expression a capital offense. It is even more stunning as open expression, for many, is still a capital offense. Sheikh Abdi organized a local town council shortly after Hussein’s departure. The council had six members. Between 2004 and 2006, insurgents murdered five members. He was the sixth member. As one banker in Mosul told me last month: “We have a big problem here. If you do anything that is smart and successful, you will be threatened and probably killed. Better to do nothing.”

You talk to Sheikh Abdi about the past, and he, like many, points fingers at the Saudis or the Americans or the Iranians, the Shia or Kurd. You talk about the present, and he tells you of unemployment and poor leadership. “We have one problem here in our town,” he told me through a translator, “Jobs.” You talk about the future, and Sheik Abdi, like the Shia, Kurds, Christians, Yezidi and Shebak I have met, offer up images of a wealthy Iraq. An oil rich Iraq. And a democratic Iraq. Rodney Dangerfield once said he went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. I feel like I came to a walled, heavily militarized, violent, near civil war patchwork of a nation. And democracy has broken out. My guess is that it will not come across in Western media reports. Nearly every Iraqi I have met here is drunk with democratic processes. “Peaceful and exciting,” Sheikh Abdi reported to us by phone about today’s preliminary vote.

But there was that house that exploded today. And the two around it that collapsed. And a grenade that was thrown and a few more car bombs. Real people. Real families. This is not democracy as I know it. It is democracy as full contact sport, one where innocents die and assertions of authority and economic resource grabs occasionally do trample democratic institutions. The institutions have nearly unanimous public support. But either those few that oppose them are intent on destroying these infant institutions or, in many cases, those that oppose them are willing to pay someone to have them destroyed.

In spite of such risks, as pamphlets circulate that the Iranians or the Kurds or Sunni extremists will execute those who vote or those who do not vote in certain ways, Iraqis are clearly running to the polls. There is a celebration of freedom here, millions so eager to risk their lives to exercise what they recognize to be a precious right of self rule. I believe the first election, in 2005, showed a nation emergent from Saddam Hussein. I believe this election will show a democratic populace so eager to emerge from violent ethno-religious-economic legacies and escape neighbors intent on manipulation.

In other words, all peaceful and without incident. Except for those incidents.

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Written by treadingupthetigris

March 5, 2010 at 12:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Another stellar post —

    elliej

    March 5, 2010 at 4:27 am


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