Iraqi cities appear like pixellated pictures in shades of ochre and taupe when seen from the air. Closer up, I imagine them to be clusters of dusty beige buildings like the cities I saw when I sailed through the Suez Canal many years ago.
I often think of the horrifying way Iraq has descended into chaos from normalcy in my life time. It was a nice country in the 1970s. All it takes is one person who thinks he’s King, and bungling by the international community, to bring a country to its knees. Images of Saddam’s rule, Saddam’s capture and Saddam’s end represented Iraq in my mind for a long time. Those images are now replaced by visuals of swarms of people rushing across the country, ploughing through cities like bulldozers.
Iraq, Syria and Jordan apparently had their own ‘Partition’ in 1916, and that laid the foundation for the current mess. Being Indian, I tend to see it in the light of what Partition has done to India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh. When boundary lines are drawn, influenced by people who don’t really understand what people living in a region are about, it is possible that it won’t work. I read this somewhere, that disbanding the Iraqi army in 2003 made things worse, because the dismissed soldiers joined other marginalised people who put their skills to use.
The way the Iraqi group has evolved seems astonishingly similar to the way gangs of delinquent youngsters evolve on the basis of kinship created by adverse circumstances in their individual lives. They are united mainly by the chips they carry on their shoulders, and a credo they proudly proclaim to the rest of the world. Many of them have been wronged, maybe some of it only perceived and not real. But who defines what is real hurt? Teenagers sometimes say things like “You totally ruined my life by forcing me to drink milk when I was in first grade!” to parents who would never have suspected it.
I am as distressed by what is happening in Iraq as anyone else, but I do wonder: if Iraq, Syria and Jordan hadn’t been arbitrarily ‘partitioned’ in 1916 or, at least, if the UN had handled things differently in Iraq over the last decade or so, wouldn’t the Middle-East have been a more peaceful place today? The UN couldn’t stop a group of countries from taking matters into their own hands and going to war with Iraq in 2003. Are we just seeing the young people who lived through this war grown up and seeking retribution? Hurt people hurting back? It’s almost like this group is one big hydra-headed sociopath. Was the stage for the present crisis set way back in 2003? I think the UNO is a brilliant idea only if no individual country (or an alliance of a few countries) has the power to undermine it, and if more countries have a say in what it decides should or shouldn’t be done.
In Greek mythology, Pandora couldn’t shut the Box given to her by Zeus because the Troubles immediately escaped, and began stinging her. Was a Pandora’s Box opened in Iraq eleven years ago? In the original story, after all the Troubles escaped, only the Spirit of Hope remained at the bottom of the Box. Do we have even that?