Monday, May 28, 2007

Iraq: "Absolutely Worth It"

Baghdad’s Talisman Gate
This essay is from The Talisman Gate*, a blog kept by Nibras Kazimi, a citizen of Iraq who works in the US. It originally appeared as an editorial in The New York Sun on March 23rd of this year, and subsequently in Mr. Kazimi’s blog.

I am presenting the essay in its entirety. The comments following the essay have been omitted, but you can see them at The Talisman Gate.

Mr. Kazimi is a Visiting Scholar at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC. He also writes on the Middle East for the Sun, in addition to a monthly essay for Prospect magazine in Britain.

Turn off the talking heads who never leave the Green Zone, and spend the time you save reading this Iraqi citizen’s viewpoint about the war in Iraq.


Absolutely Worth It

“Was it worth it?” is a question that I hear at every anniversary of the Iraq war, and it gets more pointed and pained — and asked more accusingly by some — with every passing year and especially this week as we mark the fourth anniversary after a particularly rough year.

And I can never understand the bewildered and disappointed look upon the questioner’s face — whether they be well-meaning or sanctimonious — when I answer, matter-of-factly, “Yes, of course.”

I am expected to atone for all that’s gone wrong, and when I don’t, it seems that I am violating some social norm. I am expected to repent the sins of war and recant the folly of wanting to fix things by war, as some of the earlier war-supporters have done.

But I don’t feel guilty over wanting Saddam Hussein gone, and I am certainly not guilty of what his loyalists and what the jihadists and death squads have done to Iraq since his ouster.

I don’t answer for other Iraqis, or for the Americans who too have sacrificed so much. I answer for myself as a war supporter, a war enabler, and a continuing believer: Yes, it was worth it.

I’ve spent the better portion of my life working toward Saddam’s overthrow. I was fully aware of the very real sacrifices made by those before me who had confronted Saddam and his Baath Party, and the consequences of their actions. The tyrant would not vanish by wishing him away — he had to be fought.

This was no personal vendetta, for although many in my family had confronted this regime, we emerged relatively unscathed. My opposition to the regime was motivated by the patriotism instilled in me by parents who encompassed the major sectarian and ethnic differences of the country: one an Arab Shiite, and another a Sunni Kurd. We were Iraqi citizens who wanted our country back, who wanted hope for the future, and none of that could even be contemplated under a regime like Saddam’s that actively set Iraqi against fellow Iraqi, using whatever means possible to rend the country apart, foremost being racial and religious differences.

The day the war started was the happiest day of my life. I was waiting for it in a country neighboring Iraq, but I had turned off all the phones the evening before to catch a night’s rest away from the well-wishers and congratulators who might call. I woke up and turned on the television to watch footage of the massive explosions that had smashed one of Saddam’s palaces during the night. I gleefully shouted my lonely battle cry.

A few hours later, my fellow comrades-in-arms gathered at one of our safe houses. There was no more need for caution and secrecy; all the various cells were brought together to celebrate. We were a motley group that included, among others, a former high ranking Shiite intelligence officer who had spent most of his life working for Saddam, a Sunni aviation engineer who had set out to write a new democratic constitution for Iraq on his own initiative, a Christian military architect who had designed safe passages for Saddam’s palaces, a Kurd who had fought Saddam’s armies in Iraq’s mountains and in a jihadist lapse, had gone to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Hope for a brighter future, hope for a new Iraq, had made us delirious with joy, and dismissive of our differences and our pasts, at least on that day.

The next few days were spent getting ready to do our parts in the war, and meeting with wider circles. One gentleman would become a minister of defense in the new Iraq, another would become a commander of the Mahdi Army. One tribal sheik would morph from being an avowed enemy of the Saddam regime into one of the “wise elders” of the Sunni insurgency.

Needless to say, our hopes at the war’s beginning were not matched by what we have seen over the last four years. So many things have happened that broke my heart, including the violent murder of some of those mentioned above, but my capacity for hope never broke — and it’s never been stronger.
- - - - - - - - - -
With hope comes the expectation of better things: It is one thing to expect the luxury of human dignity in a new Iraq and get justifiably indignant when such dignity is violated by the insurgents or the death squads or even sloppy services, and it is quite another matter to expect no rights or compassion under Saddam’s Iraq and become resigned to being dehumanized by a repressive totalitarian machine. This is why so many Iraqis are unhappy today and why I am unhappy today, but it doesn’t mean that I have lost hope.

I have had my own share of traumas and hurts over the last four years, as did the vast majority of Iraqis. In fact my family, relatively unscathed under Saddam, has undergone a much harsher experience since the liberation of Baghdad. Not only physically and materially, but the spiritual damage has been extensive: Our cherished ideals of patriotism toward our Iraq were never so challenged by sectarian divides as they are now.

But instead of turning forlorn and dejected, I’ve grown more combative. I think it is because I have more to lose: Bringing down Saddam gave Iraq and the Iraqi people a fighting chance at a better life, and now, faced with this vicious attack by those who want to take us back to Saddam’s dark era and others who want to take us back to a medieval form of Islam, I have more to fight for.

When I first started working for the Iraqi opposition, it really seemed at times, as the Western press derisively labeled it, as a venture that involved “three guys and a fax machine.” Confronting Saddam seemed like a fool’s errand, a hopeless cause, not least because of the danger posed to oneself and one’s family.

A couple of days ago, while strolling around Manhattan, I passed the Sheraton Hotel at Seventh Avenue and 53rd Street where an Iraqi opposition conference was held in the autumn of 1999. I giggled at the memories that the place evoked: Who would have thought then that the men and women gathered there would today be the leaders of Iraq? But that is exactly what happened: There is something incredibly powerful in that realization.

The violence and mayhem enveloping Iraq is not my sin. Blame should be left at the doorstep of those who openly boast in propaganda videos about hurting ordinary people. If I am at fault, it is for hoping for too much, too soon. But even so, I have nothing to apologize for.

The war launched four year ago gave me my country back, and armed me with hope. Maybe my hopes have been scaled back slightly and recalibrated, but they were never repudiated nor will they be. On this anniversary, I choose to remind myself that flawed freedom is far better than slavery in whatever form, and that it is absolutely worth it.


Mr. Kazimi has two blogs by the same name, though the content is quite different. See here* for the second one. I recommend both.

If you want to write him, here is his email: Nibras Kazimi

12 comments:

Profitsbeard said...

Shouldn;t the gentleman be fighting in Iraq for his country's freedom?

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

So... he doesn't actually live in Iraq, and he wasn't even there when the war started? Why should I listen to him? Why should I listen to him instead of all the other people who live in Iraq?

One thing I'd like to know is how Iraq is supposed to be any better today, now that Saddam is gone. Everything seems to indicate that the country has gone steadily downhill, not to mention that Jihadists have a new playground where they can kill infidels, and Iraq is no longer keeping Iran in check.

Subvet said...

A man can work for the betterment of his country and not live in it at times. Both Franklin and Hamilton spent time in the decadent court of France working to get support for the American Revolution. I doubt they were wearing sackcloth and ashes to show solidarity for their countrymen.

Maybe others can doubt this man's sincerity, I'll accept it until proven otherwise.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

If we're supposed to turn off the talking heads who don't leave the Green Zone, then this guy better live in Iraq and outside the Zone. Not that it really matters in the end, since it's just one person's opinion. There are Iraqis who aren't very happy about the situation, unlike him.

Dymphna said...

j.c.--

Obviously it mattered enough for you to take the trouble to make TWO disparaging comments about this man's efforts, both of which demonstrate your failure to read his words carefully.

You say:
So... he doesn't actually live in Iraq, and he wasn't even there when the war started?

He clearly stated:

A few hours later, my fellow comrades-in-arms gathered at one of our safe houses. There was no more need for caution and secrecy; all the various cells were brought together to celebrate. We were a motley group that included, among others, a former high ranking Shiite intelligence officer who had spent most of his life working for Saddam, a Sunni aviation engineer who had set out to write a new democratic constitution for Iraq on his own initiative, a Christian military architect who had designed safe passages for Saddam’s palaces...The next few days were spent getting ready to do our parts in the war

And you also dismiss him this way:
Not that it really matters in the end, since it's just one person's opinion.

If it doesn't "really matter" why are you at pains to take the trouble to leave not just one, but *two* dismissive comments?

Thomas Jefferson never fought in the wars, nor did most of those who signed the Declaration of Independence. They were no less patriotic for that.

There is more than one way to serve your country. By the light of your assertions, all able-bodied men and women in our country should be enlisted in physically fighting whichever wars are necessary to protect our long-term freedoms...that would include, of course, the talking heads who present a very one-sided view of our efforts in Iraq.

Some of the US soldiers don't agree with our tactics in Iraq, but that doesn't negate their service. This man's efforts are not negated, either.

As Belmont Club put it the other day, we involved in a war against evil. And if you don't think the jihadists torturers and murderers are evil, then we operate by a different moral compass.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

dymphna
Obviously it mattered enough for you to take the trouble to make TWO disparaging comments about this man's efforts
Seems like every time I disagree with someone or about something you pull this dubious argument. I wonder if you'd use it if the person being "disparaged" was someone you hated. I doubt you'd be so hyper-sensitive then.

He clearly stated:
I interpreted it as him saying that they were still in the other country, not in Iraq.

And you also dismiss him this way:
Oh no! I "dismissed" him by making the factual statement that his opinion is just an opinion. Is he somehow a special person whose opinion is more important and valid than somebody else's?

Thomas Jefferson never fought in the wars, nor did most of those who signed the Declaration of Independence. They were no less patriotic for that.
If we are to turn off the talking heads in the Green Zone then surely this guy is right there in the middle of Iraq? If he isn't, then what makes his opinion so important?

And if you don't think the jihadists torturers and murderers are evil, then we operate by a different moral compass.
What? Where did this come from?

Ron said...

I'm glad he's more determined than ever, unfortunately, it's on our dime (or rather, on our $500 billion). If Bush & Co. hadn't made such a horrible mess of things, perhaps it might almost have been worth it (apart from the, uh, oh you know, the lies about why we have to go there in the first place). There are lots of places on Earth which are horrible and the people of which would doubtless welcome our expensive invasion, like Zimbawbe, Tibet, Myanmar, to name a few. Let's go there, too!! I'm sure they'll be happy.

So, while it's nice he's resolute, it's a small result for an incredibly ruinous effort on our part, one, for which, sadly, we'll pay in many ways for years to come.

Teri said...

Lies? Are you talking about Saddam violating all those UN resolutions? Or are you talking about the weapons of mass destruction that he moved out of the country prior to the US attack? The places you name did not violate any UN sanctions that I am aware of. I am also puzzled by the way that people do not understand that the US was also spending money for the no-fly zone for 10 years. Did they really think that could go on forever?

Subvet said...

Found a great post here: http://outsidethewire.com/blog/outside-the-wire/kharmah-awakens.html

Might be worth reading for anyone who feels certain and secure in their "knowledge" of what's happening in Iraq.

Ron said...

Teri: Did you check Area 51? Saddam may have moved his reactor and bombs there.

Evanston2 said...

Ron,
Saddam gassed thousands of Kurds and Iranians.
After losing the first Gulf War, he agreed to UN inspections. Then after years of undermining the inspection process, he threw the inspectors out of the country. What would a reasonable man think? That Iraq had maintained and was hiding its WMD capability.

Along those lines, after we took Iraq, we found (1) long-range SCUDS, (2) artillery shells with gas capability (in fact, they were only "duds" due to poor storage methods) (3) records from their ongoing interest in nukes (disrupted by the Israeli strike at Osirus). All of these were supposed to have been destroyed in accordance with the treaty signed after Desert Storm.

Is Teri right about shipments to Syria or elsewhere? I don't know...but for you to dismiss her comments with such insulting language only shows how close-minded you are.

JC Supercop, as you say, Mr. Kazimi's opinion is just another opinion. Still, it makes interesting reading and while he may not agree with you or meet your standards for personal objectivity or bravery, I would hope you would "listen to him" just a little bit. His main point was that there is hope now, where before there was the prospect of an endless, dark dictatorship.

Ron said...

Evanston2: I am quite aware of what an evil, vile piece of crap Saddam was and the horror he visited on the Iraqis (of course, those Iraqi victims visited similiar horrors on Jews when they had the chance, but enough of that). Fact remains, he was not a threat to us; Osama was and is. Bush had a great case against the Taliban and OBL and certainly, if he had a shred of intelligence, could have extended that war to other terrorists of the same ilk as OBL.

But he chose to lie to Americans, fake intelligence, and drag us into a complete waste of men and money in Iraq, thus conflating the war on terror with Iraq, making it easier for those who oppose our war on terror to make a case against us.

He's a complete fool, as is everyone who supported him. A fool and much worse.

As for the horror of the Saddam regime, it is not much different than now, except that now, Iran is the biggest winner in Iraq, women are enslaved; and clerics run the country. All on our dime.