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‘Iraq has been defined by the people’s resilience’
January 7, 2016, 8:35 pm

Despite the threat of suicide bombers and attacks, Iraqis came out in public spaces to celebrate the new year last week [Xinhua]

Despite the threat of suicide bombers and attacks, Iraqis came out in public spaces to celebrate the new year last week [Xinhua]


On the occasion of the 94th anniversary of the founding of the Iraqi army, Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi promised that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) would be routed and forced out of the country in 2016.

His pledge came just two weeks after the Iraqi army regained control of Ramadi, capital of the war-torn province of Anbar, from ISIL fighters.

The successful military campaign, backed by Sunni tribesmen and US-led coalition aerial bombardment, has given hope to Iraqi and American commanders that Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, could soon be liberated from ISIL’s hold.

In the meantime, thousands of Iraqi youth are fleeing the fighting and often braving difficult Mediterranean waters to reach European shores, adding to the Syrian refugee crisis there.

The UN says that at least 980 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Iraq in November.

The BRICS Post interviewed Ahmed Habib, a journalist and founding member of the shakomako.net editorial collective, an independent digital magazine that highlights Iraqi arts, culture, history, politics and … football.

Violence has not abated in Iraq. The army launches campaigns against ISIL and many Iraqis are becoming refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe or Canada. What do Iraqi youth have to look forward to in 2016?

For over 50 years, Iraq has been defined by the resilience of its people. Multiple generations have withstood attacks on their communities through the undermining of democracy, dictatorship, war, sanctions and most recently, a complete collapse of the social fabric.

Despite that, Iraqis remain steadfast in their commitment to life, and excelling in the arts, sciences, sports and literature. The examples from last year alone are countless.

Paralympic athletes like Jarrah Tnayesh won gold at the world championships, writers like Ahmed Saadawi won the equivalent of the Booker prize in Arabic literature, architects like Zaha Hadid took top accolades in her field, and the list goes on, from filmmakers to social workers to volunteers.

Endless stories of parenting and partnership, providing and support, love and aspiration, excellence and innovation continue to decorate the streets of Iraq in spite of all the death. That is Iraq: full of life. That is what young Iraqis have to look forward to.

Why has Iraq not stabilized since the removal of Saddam Hussein?

It is important to see the American occupation of 2003 which led to Saddam’s removal and the subsequent looting, the massive death toll, the exodus of millions, and the complete annihilation of the country’s infrastructure, as part of a continuum from Saddam’s era itself.

In that sense, Saddam never left. Iraqis now know, not that many doubted in the first place, that the notion of removing Saddam to solve the country’s problems was a lie perpetuated to bring even more destruction to Iraq.

You can’t analyze what has happened to Iraq in a vacuum that was created in 2003. You need to look back to the beginning, and even earlier, to understand the socio-economic dynamics that make up the building blocks of Iraqi society, and how they can be used to wreak further havoc on the possibility of a democratic, and stable Iraq.

From the creation of the modern Iraqi state in the 1930s under a foreign-backed monarchy, to a popular revolution in 1958 that was quashed by American-backed counterrevolutionary forces, to the war with Iran, to the 1991 Gulf War, and through until the sanctions, every step of the way, until the end of Saddam’s reign, a part of Iraq was being broken down, some larger than others, some replaceable, and many gone forever.

We won’t be seeing a pluralistic society in Iraq that benefits from social programs designed to create equitable conditions in Iraq for a long time. Once you expand your analytical framework, you’ll start to understand why.

What are the greatest dangers Iraqis face today?

Iraqis are in a struggle for their very essence. To safeguard their identity, not the kind of identity that is defined by a flag or a map, but the one that is made of language, music, memories, neighborhoods, friendship, and a sense of belonging to a vibrant community.

All of that is under threat of complete collapse. The lack of the basic means of sustenance coupled with an endless wave of violence means that for most Iraqis, what they know of Iraq is already dead.

The greatest danger, however, is losing faith that things can be rebuilt.

There are some who say the Baghdad government has been unable to secure the country? Do you think a second phase of US or International Forces occupation can stabilize the country?

Ahmed Habib is a founding member of a website that highlights Iraqi culture and history [Archive]

Ahmed Habib is a founding member of a website that highlights Iraqi culture and history [Archive]

Anyone who has closely looked at Iraq over the last few decades, or even since 2003, can tell you that the role of the United States military and all foreign players, including Iran and Turkey, has been harmful, to say the least.

The last thing Iraq needs is more foreign meddling into its affairs. Communities have been torn apart, and they need to heal.

There’s no doubt that the current government in Iraq is comprised of a group of sectarian thieves and thugs that are incapable of securing anything other than deposits into their own bank accounts.

Everyone in Iraq, regardless of sect, social class, or geographic location agrees to that. People now also realize that their presence in Iraq is not a coincidence.

They are a logical outcome of a society that has been torn apart from every angle possible by the same forces that came to supposedly rescue them in 2003.

International forces and Iraq’s criminal government are unfortunately one and the same.

Iraq’s solution lies in the hands of its people not only to forge a better space, but also in the dismantling of oppressive and exploitative powers that operate throughout the region as a whole.

Again, I wish that the answer was as easy as more boots on the ground, but when the damage witnessed in Iraq is so multi-layered and advanced, solutions must be equally robust and multi-pronged.

Iraq’s various ethnicities and sects have for the most part split into different sections and cantons. Should Iraq be divided?

How can you divide an identity, shaped by hundreds of years of cultural expression that spans from the mountains of Kurdistan to the salty shores of Shatt Al Arab?

How can you divide a land that has held on to all of its body parts despite countless attempts to burn, poison and dispossess its every tree, waterway and inhabitant?

How can you divide a group of communities, languages, beliefs and aspirations that celebrate each other’s success no matter where it may be, inside Iraq, or in any corner of the world?

You can’t.

You can draw and redraw borders, redesign flags and compose new national anthems, but Iraq will remain to exist as an identity that undoubtedly means different things to different people, but continues to exist nevertheless.

What are you trying to do through ShakomakoNET?

We’re a group of writers, filmmakers, designers, storytellers, with different levels of expertise, Iraqis and not, that are committed to telling the story of Iraq’s people, its culture, history and politics.

Inspired by the resilience shown by everyday Iraqis from Mosul to Melbourne, we want to create an independent platform for people to come and exchange memories and stories about a people that the mainstream news and decision makers try very hard to completely write off in every news story and sound bite.

What does Shakomako mean?

In the Iraqi dialect, it means “what’s up?”.  It’s a quintessential term that Iraqis from every background use.

But I want to emphasize something. The magazine’s audience are equally inspired by the depth of anger, loss, creativity and magic that defines Iraq.

Why football?

We discuss the beautiful game not through the lens of scoreboards and play by play analysis. We try to look at football through a wider lens.

Instead of analyzing tactics and results, we try to highlight the socio-political context in which the game is played.

We look at how it captures the spirit of resilience in Iraqis in the face of tremendous obstacles, the way a team with humble resources has captured the imagination of millions, continuously overachieving, and refusing to crumble beneath the pressures of violence and widespread corruption.

All of the footballers we have met and interviewed started playing on the streets of Iraq, mostly from poor backgrounds, making them true representatives of the masses that have paid the heaviest price for war, dictatorship and sanctions.

Equally, all of the players we have interviewed are adamant about the unifying power of the game, and how players all play for one clear goal. Unlike other players that have huge financial and professional aspirations, these players constantly talk about their desire to bring joy to the kids of Iraq who have very little to look forward to at times.

When Iraq took home the Asian Cup in 2007, at the height of the civil war, fans braved car bombs, assassinations and kidnappings to take to the street and celebrate a magnificent achievement.

They were joined by millions of Iraqis in Sweden, Canada, the United States and everywhere in the diaspora.

In that moment, it’s as if the war had stopped, and all of its negative impacts reversed. That is why we cover football at shakomako.net.

The BRICS Post

One Response to ‘Iraq has been defined by the people’s resilience’

  1. mike schwarzer Reply

    January 8, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Iraq is the most invaded country in the world. More than 3,500 years of war. It was the cradle of civilization. Now it’s the cradle of corruption, despair and war. The Americans did a great evil bringing in Saddam and a great evil getting rid of Saddam. US foreign policy has been a shameful legacy and lets hope Obama rings in the CIA and military industrial complex and who ever follows puts an end to these expensive failures. And most importantly an end to the evil the US does.

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