There are currently four million Iraqis outside Iraq. An overwhelming majority of these are workers trying to stoke a living given that the economic situation in Iraq is dire with unemployment nearing 60 percent. This includes university professors, doctors, engineers, computer hardware specialists, architects, aeronautic technicians, and interior designers. They have found often-temporary subsistence in such countries as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates.
Other Iraqis, who cannot secure employment, have taken to immigrating to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, and any other place that would have them. In the mid-1990s, the émigré population had swollen to such levels that some Iraqis could be found sleeping inside churches in Europe. Some took a more risqué approach and tried to enter foreign countries by way of people smuggling. Many died as their small boats capsized.
A small number of the Iraqi Diaspora comprises various opposition groups that festoon Syria, Iran and London. Every few months a new group emerges, with membership numbering from two or three individuals to several dozens.
Not all Iraqi opposition groups are the same, however, and most do not share the same vision of a future Iraq. While some opposition groups are independent, numerous foreign governments fund others. The CIA, for example, funds the Iraqi National Congress (INC), while various Shiite opposition groups are funded and sustained by Iran.
The most vocal groups are the ones that receive the most airtime, specifically because they have adopted the U.S. line of invading Iraq. While these groups may berate the woes and wiles of current regimes, they have hardly uttered a word about civilian casualties since 1991, and the impending catastrophe that may yet befall average Iraqis. They have never spoken out about the concentration of depleted uranium in the south of Iraq where Iraq newborns are without eyes and are terribly disfigured. Where the U.S. has barred any formal investigation into lethal radiation levels. Or the U.N. figure of some 500,000 infant deaths since the U.N. imposed punitive sanctions on Iraq.
We hear nothing, as well, of the rapid deterioration of what was once the most modern and efficient health care system in the Arab world. Nor the fact that Iraqi society had reached 97 percent literacy before the sanctions. In the past decade of sanctions, Iraqis have found that education is a luxury they can no longer afford. Children are made to help their parents in begging or selling parts of their homes off to meet the challenges the sanctions have imposed.
The Shiite opposition groups, who find much in common with Iran, which provides them with a logistical home, have strongly opposed a U.S. invasion of Iraq, despite overtures from the INC and the CIA. They have consequently received very little media attention. The Shiite opposition groups have consistently tried to put the plight of the Iraqi people at the forefront.
Western media, for its part, has taken the approach of singularity when dealing with Iraq; Iraq is referred to, alluded to, and contemplated as one person. Iraq is one man, North American media reminds us. MSNBC has taken to calling the latest crisis “Showdown With Saddam”, while Senators fall over each other to “Saddam this” or “Saddam that”. When they speak of attacking Iraq they say, “let’s go and take this guy out.” Taking this guy out, however, would also take a chunk of innocent Iraqis out; we never hear of Iraqi civilians. That’s because they don’t fit into the greater scheme of things, eh!
This is tragic because it invites the unwitting public to think of every Iraqi as Saddam, every Iraqi move as Saddam. Indeed, the entire history of Iraq, rich in design, culture, science, and literature is completely wiped out, in Western eyes, to be replaced by “The Showdown with Saddam”.
In the U.S., for example, the gung-ho, trailer trash crowd does not know that it was in historic Iraq where the wheel was invented; the electric battery was first put into use some 6,000 years ago. They do not know that it was in historic Iraq that writing and literature, trigonometry, the first 360-day calendar, religion, culture, mathematics, and astronomy were first invented.
Perhaps, they also do not know of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first story of heroism, where metaphysics, life, death and divinity were first approached 7,000 years ago, before the story of Abraham and Moses.
Not really. When you want to go after a foe, you demonize them as much as possible and give them a faceless appearance. The interviewed Iraqis don’t help either. They never speak of the country of their origin; they merely personify the evils of one man.
Take Khidhir Hamza, for example. A former mid-level Iraqi nuclear scientist who touts himself as Saddam’s bomb maker Hamza has proclaimed that he supports any Iraqi opposition group. Never mind the fact that most of the Iraqi opposition is comprised of crooks, gangsters, rapists, assassins and former Baathist henchmen.
Ask the Jordanians. They have an entire archive of charges against Ahmad Chalabi, Head of the Iraqi National Congress opposition group. Chalabi is known throughout the Arab world as a fraud, embezzler and second-rate thief. However, given the mood in North America today, it just isn’t politically correct to bring all that up now is it? Chalabi is the U.S.’s baby right now.
After testifying to the U.S. Congress (September 19, 2002) that Iraq should be invaded and bombed into the Stone Age, Hamza took his “mission” to MSNBC’s Buchanan and Press. In August Hamza had claimed that he had specific information that Iraq was three years away from putting together a nuclear warhead.
The source of the information? Unknown. The contents of that information? Unknown. Has it been made public? No.
Irrelevant because now Hamza has changed his story to the tune of “Iraq is three months away from developing a nuclear warhead”. Interesting. And precisely at the same time that the public is having the fear of nuclear damnation screwed into them.
On the MSNBC show, Pat Buchanan asked Hamza if Iraq had any means of delivering weapons of mass destruction. Hamza agreed saying that Saddam could hit Israel.
An Iraqi all of a sudden worried about Israel’s safety? Hardly, because Hamza is delivering the U.S. rhetoric against Iraq hook, line, and sinker. Verbatim, if you will.
What is most saddening, however, is that Hamza refers to Iraq as ‘He’ and in that manner of speaking makes 24 million Iraqis irrelevant. Iraq is not one man. Iraq is not one family, but 24 million, viable, vibrant and vivacious Iraqis, many of them artisans and professors, scientists and medical innovators.
Hamza chooses to worry about Israel but not his own people.
After weeks of prodding to wage war against Iraq, not one single discussion has involved the plight of the Iraqi people. The so-called Iraqi rebels that shame themselves on national television seem to have forgotten the people they left behind in Iraq. They seem to have forgotten their friends and neighbours in Iraq.
War is ugly, and as seen in Afghanistan, merciless. It matters not if you are innocent civilians celebrating a wedding or sitting around sipping tea and hubbly-bubbly. Iraq will be bombed to smithereens.
The U.S., U.K., and Canada just marked the sombre first anniversary of the tragedies of September 11. Tears were shed; songs were written in eulogy, memorials and statues were erected.
The death of innocents is not a matter to be taken neither lightly nor easily forgotten. The compassion displayed in recent weeks should not be confined to one continent, one nation, or one peoples.
Iraqis have suffered countless tragedies. Yet, and wretchedly so, their stories go unaccounted for. The names of dead children are not read out over a microphone. Their graves have no markings and no memorials. They are not even mourned except by their grieving families. There is no day to commemorate their murder.
Instead, their deaths are scorned and betrayed.
Every warmonger, whether it is Carl Rove, Condoleeza Rica, Hamza, Chalabi or others, will have the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of innocents to answer to.
Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Muslim Canadian journalist living on the Pacific Coast.