Friday, April 07, 2006

Op-Ed: From Mosul to Philadelphia

By guest blogger Majid S.
An Iraqi-American living in Pennsylvania

Three government officials from Mosul, Iraq recently visited Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as part of a city to city partnership, created by the International Visitor’s Center in Philadelphia.

The goal of the partnership is to give visitors from Iraq an opportunity to meet with government officials and individuals from the private sector in Philadelphia, to share ideas about governance and democracy. The partnership also coordinates humanitarian aid to citizens in Mosul. The first delegation included the Vice Governor, Khasro Goran, and provincial council members M. and N.

Philadelphia is a fitting place for visitors from a nascent government to come to experience American history, both past and present. It is the birthplace of the United States of America, and is where the founding fathers wrote the declaration of independence. It is where the founders struggled for eleven years over the words of the constitution and the laws that guided the initial steps of this nation. The debates in the early days between the founders were also not limited to legal arguments exchanged in heated discussions in Congress. There were times when violent mobs attacked the homes of opposing party members. Many Americans are not always aware of the messy and violent early times that resulted in the current system of government.

Philadelphia is also still far from perfect today and faces many obstacles in its efforts to provide a good life for its citizens. Similar to many other major cities in the world, Philadelphia has significant challenges providing basic services within limited budgets, yet coping with considerable problems such as the high levels of crime in some of its neighborhoods. Given Philadelphia’s diverse history and its current challenges, is all the more reason for visitors to come to Philadelphia to learn about both its successes and its failures.

The visitors from Mosul, Iraq were able to give Americans a direct perspective on life in current day Iraq. The three represent the diversity of Mosul, one being Kurdish and Moslem, another Arab and Sunni Moslem, and the third, Kurdish and Christian. Americans heard both about the challenges and about the progress that has been achieved. It was moving to hear the delegates talk about their vision for the future of a united Iraq, an Iraq where all people regardless of ethnic and religious origin are respected and have equal rights.

Their courage is also an inspiration. They have braved numerous assassination attempts. Last year insurgents almost succeeded in their attempts to kill Council member M., shooting him five times in an attack on him and his son. Yet he survived and remains resolute in his goal to help build a new future for Iraq.

The Iraqis are realistic about the real challenges facing the people of Iraq, given the insurgency and the opponents to freedom. Yet they are proud of the progress they have achieved in the past couple of years.

Mr. Khasro noted that the bloodshed and threats to security plague primarily four of the eighteen provinces in Iraq. He mentioned that eight provincial council members have been assassinated in Mosul since the provincial government was formed. Attacks on Iraqis vary from car bombs intended to inflame sectarian conflict, to attacks on key government employees and the police forces, hoping to dissuade Iraqis from joining the efforts to rebuild the future. There has also been an increase in the incidence of extortion by criminal elements, who threaten businesses and professionals with harm unless cash is paid to the criminals. Yet the Iraqi people are dedicated in their struggle for a safe and secure future.

Vice Governor Khasro tried to put the current conflict in perspective. He mentioned that while the total Iraqi death toll over the past three years, is estimated to be close to 30,000, with the number of American casualties at approximately 2,300, it is a small fraction, compared to the loss of life over 35 years under the previous regime. As many people know, an estimated 2.5 million people died in the Iraq-Iran war, another 500,000 Iraqis are estimated to have died during sanctions as a result of malnutrition and disease, with another 300,000 massacred by government forces and found in mass graves. More than 4 million Iraqis are living abroad, having fled from the oppression of the previous regime.

Mr. Khasro stated that there has been significant political progress. The genocide perpetuated by the former regime over the past three decades has been stopped, and the Iraqi people have had three real elections in the past 18 months. Representatives of the Sunni’s, the Shiaa, and Kurds are negotiating the formation of the next government, and no doubt, the talks are chaotic at times, but leaders in all three groups are working very hard to come to terms by consent, not by brutality.

Iraqis for the first time in more than 50 years have free press; they have unrestrained access to the world wide web, satellite TV, and they are able to speak their minds freely. The economy is improving, with many new jobs. Many more teachers are being hired with salaries now 8 to 10 times what they were three years ago. The markets are full of imported goods. The Iraqi currency, the Dinar, has doubled in value since early 2003. Real estate values have been increasing rapidly, up by 500 to 700% in some neighborhoods. Real estate construction, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars is increasing in the more stable parts of Iraq. Such indicators are a reflection of confidence in the long term future of Iraq.

There continue to be challenges with security and with shortages of gas and electricity. The bloodshed in some areas continues. It is estimated that an average of 13 people died daily in March 2006 through out Iraq. The Iraqi people are weary of those who would use violence to disrupt progress. However, a large majority is committed to a better future and continue to persevere in the face of adversity.

Mr. Khasro called for patience and support. The remnants of the previous regime and anti-democratic neighboring countries will continue to try to de-rail progress, but the Iraqi people cannot afford to miss this opportunity to build a stable and free future for the Iraqi people. He noted that Japan and Germany struggled for more than 10 years after WWII until their economies were functioning productively again. With support, they built democratic institutions, and re-built their economies.

The war in Iraq has been a divisive war, with considerable disagreement between critics and supporters of the war. However, caring and compassionate people in the world should be able to agree that:

  • The Iraqi people should never again be subjected to the terror and cruelty of a dictatorial regime.

  • The Iraqi people deserve the world’s support in building a stable and democratic future.

It is also in the interest of the world to support a secure and free Iraq. Success in Iraq is not assured, but with patience and continued support for the Iraqi people in their current struggle, it is possible.

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