x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Iraqi society fragments while the politicians squabble

Iraqi people risked their lives to vote for those in the seat of power. But where is the state? Where is the security? Where are all the promises?

Last month for the first time, I saw the aftermath of a bombing in Iraq, at the entrance to Baghdad Airport.The explosion had occurred a few moments before our plane landed from Abu Dhabi.

Several cars had parked at Abbas Bin Firnas, the final checkpoint before the airport, where people say farewell to their loved ones. By the time our car passed the scene, it was evacuated and all that was left was the burnt black frames of the vehicles. Scores of people died.

My father, who panicked when he saw the news on TV, was relieved to see me at his construction site in Baghdad with all my limbs attached.

He was talking to several engineers, one of whom told him that security officials found a bomb at the entrance of a nearby mosque while he was performing his prayers. They were lucky to have defused it just in time. The consensus was that an attempt to re-ignite sectarian divisions was imminent.

Little did we know that Iraq would unravel so quickly. Violence has always occurred on the outskirts of the capital and in more remote areas in the country. But today, almost three weeks later, even Baghdad is not immune.

In the past, attacks would target public areas such as markets, restaurants and cafes but now the perpetrators are focusing on places of worship - Sunni and Shia mosques.

Eighty-six people died on Monday; it was the bloodiest and deadliest day of the year.

Monday's bombings have triggered feelings of resentment and hate on both sides. The words "sectarian war" are now frequently being used to describe the violence.

Sunni Iraqis are fighting for their rights, which are completely legitimate. But a select few have carried flags of Saddam Hussain's regime during the demonstrations, losing them legitimacy in the eyes of Shias, who are worried about a returning Baathist tide to return under the cloak of Al Qaeda.

Making matters worse, the truth is unclear. Every Iraqi channel - owned by their various political parties - portrays a different perspective on the story, casting blame in different directions.

"Baghdad is burning," my mother said as she wept and watched the developments unfold from Abu Dhabi. My mother - and all the Iraqis in the neighbourhood - have become addicted to watching the toxic and deadly events in Iraq.

How did we get here? Iraq's politicians are squabbling, Sunnis and Shiites alike, behind the fortified walls of the green zone - with their bodyguards, 24-hour running electricity, and swelling pockets. Meanwhile, people are dying on the streets of Baghdad.

Ordinary Iraqis are victims of the lack of dialogue between rival factions in power.

Their only crime was that they went to the market to fetch bamya for their wives to make lunch. Their crime was that they went to the mosque to pray for their children to pass their exam in school.

As I watched the events unfold from the newsroom in Abu Dhabi, I thought to myself what a miracle it must take to find the strength in the wake of such a tragedy to get up in the morning, go to work, come back to the family like nothing happened. The stoicism of Iraqis is admirable.

But behind the scenes, Iraq's social fabric is disintegrating. People are giving up. Everyone either wants to leave, or is being forced to leave.

Families living in Amriyya, a well-off Sunni neighbourhood in Baghdad, have started to receive threats with a clear warning: move or face the consequences.

These threats echo the warnings received in the dark days of the sectarian violence of 2005-2008.

In a fragile state like Iraq, the curious mix of political instability, sectarian tensions, geopolitical influences, and a vacuum of security have also produced a haven for crime, gangs and militias.

Where is the state? Where is the security? Where are all the promises? People risked their lives to vote for those in the seat of power.

Enough is enough. Do not sit back and watch the bloodshed. Now is the time to sit at the negotiating table. Discuss all your grievances and do what is in the interest of the people. Don't allow more innocent people to die in vain. Give them hope. Give them a future.

 

Hadeel Al Sayegh is a business reporter for The National

halsayegh@thenational.ae