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Hope For Iraq – The Iraqis Speak Out!
By Ken Joseph Jr.
(ANS) — amidst the politicized debate over Iraq is one group who should be part of the debate but seem to become lost in the rhetoric.
They are the Iraqis.

Recently in the middle of hearings on Iraq being held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Iraqis finally had their chance to speak.

Former Iraqi Ambassador Rend Al-Rahi, now the director of The Iraq Foundation, Laith Kubba, Senior Director for The Middle East and North Africa for the National Endowment for Democracy, Qubad Talibani, the US Representative for the Kurdistan Regional Government and son of the Iraqi President and Dr. Toby Dodge, who for all practical purposes is an Iraqi too.

The contrast with other panels in the string of hearings on Iraq being held by various committees was stunning.

First, was where it was held. Hearings are always held in either of the large Conference rooms in the Hart or Dirksen Senate Office buildings.

This, what should have been most important of hearings was held in a tiny room, rarely used on the sixth floor – 628 Dirksen to be exact.

Second, was the dramatic difference in testimony by those with the most at risk – the Iraqis themselves.

Coming on the heels of the Iraqi Vice President who stirred the crowd at an earlier meeting by quoting from Thomas Jefferson `All men are created equal` and the private conversations with Iraqis in general, including staff from the Iraqi Embassy their testimony was hopeful, analytic and completely different from all the previous “experts” giving testimony on Iraq.

The contrast with previous hearings where ` Iraq is lost` and `we need to pull out as soon as possible`, those with the most at stake in Iraq were remarkably upbeat, hopeful and direct.

First, Rend al-Rahim known as deeply upset with former Ambassador Paul Bremer for his failure to manage Iraq properly said `The fundamental problem in Iraq is the failure to grasp that we are a secular society, highly educated and have no major history of fighting between different groups. The current situation, which was created because those in charge did not understand the situation in Iraq does not reflect Iraqi Society.

“What is most needed is to re-write the Constitution and return Iraq to its normal, secular state and not let religious extremists control the agenda. The majority of the Iraqis are voiceless,” she said “the vast majority are not part of this sectarian mess and for example, the simple fact that the Sunnis were not a part of the writing of the Constitution is a clear indication that it needs to be re-written.”

Following on her heels, Qubad Talibani, said, “First, we would like to say ‘thank you’ to the families of those who sacrificed for the Liberation of Iraq and to America . Our area, Kurdistan is doing wonderful. We have hope and believe that we are moving in the right direction. As Dr. al-Rahim says, if we can stop looking at Iraq as Shia, Sunni, Assyrian, Kurd and as all Iraqis we will be able to move back to our regular relationships.

“Further, with 17% of the population Kurdistan has only received 3% of the nearly 21 Billion spent on rebuilding Iraq ,” he said.

This mirrored earlier statements by the Assyrian Christians who under Saddam Hussein were said by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to number 2.5 Million or 10% of the population who recently discovered that their community had only received $400,000 a truly amazing amount.

Dr. Toby Dodge, was adamant in his belief that in fact, Iraq had hope and that as the others suggested, “If we can simply control security and give the Iraqis a chance to manage themselves free from outside interference and give it more time, Iraq will move forward.”

His comments on relating with Iraq ‘s neighbors was in stark contrast to previous experts called to give testimony.

“The only way to talk with Iran , Syria and others causing trouble in Iraq is to tell them clearly to stop. If that is the purpose then it is productive to talk to them. Otherwise, they should not be asked` to help.”

The most optimistic was Dr. Laith Kubba, former spokesman for Prime Minister Jaffari. “We believe that Iraq is going to make it. There are difficulties now, but they will slowly begin to calm down as the Iraqi people begin to recover after the terror of Saddam and realize that they are all Iraqis.”

To a man – and woman – they all supported increased troops strength for Iraq . The difference though was that each as an Iraqi had a direct interest in the future of Iraq .

Further they supported more freedom for the various regions of Iraq including Kurdistan in the North West and Assyria in the North East.

Assyria has recently turned in its request for a Province in the current Province of Nineveh and as the indigenous people of Iraq , was brought up in the hearings as an example of the way forward.

“The real problem,” Dr. Dodge said, “is that nobody wants Iraq to succeed. The neighboring countries, all dictatorships do not want it to fail because it would weaken their power, dictators all over the world do not want it to succeed and many who simply dislike the United States do not want it to succeed.”

The dramatic contrast in their comments, fit in with personal conversations with Iraqis.

Quoted on the condition that it is anonymous, an Iraqi Government official put it this way. “We all want Ayad Allawi back. We do not understand why the US allowed the UN to put together an electoral system that was designed to give the radical Islamic parties power. Further, we do not understand why the US sees Iraq as a ‘Moslem’ state instead of a regular country, trying to get back to normalcy again.

“There almost seems to be a discrimination against the Middle East and Arabs, thinking that we are all uneducated – in Iraq nearly 70% have a college degree – and all Moslems!

“We may have personal religious beliefs but we do not want to become like neighboring Iran and other countries where the mullahs and religious rulers rule. We are just like you. Freed, thanks to America from a terrible tyrant, we must not be turned over to an even more terrible tyrant – the rule of the mullahs and religious leaders.”

The fundamental point all the Iraqis seemed to be saying was really quite simple.

We are Iraqis. We are on your side. Please stop supporting radical individuals and groups who have lived for decades out of the country and do not understand how we have changed.

The main problem we have is outsiders who are all united in their desire for Iraq to fail. Most of all, please stand by us because the `silent majority` of Iraqis is on your side and if you can support us instead of the various radical groups we can make Iraq into what we all want – a modern, secular state.

Why was such an important hearing – in many ways the most important – held in an isolated, small room on the sixth floor and not reported.

The comments of one of those testifying said it all. “Why does the US continue to not believe Iraq will succeed? The problems are not the natural course of things, but simply the result of making the fundamental mistake that an Arab cannot be a democrat and a secularist.”

Most of all, though they were united in hope, mentioning that it took seven years for Japan to regain its independence after World War II.

The consensus was essentially; instead of listening to the “experts” it was time to listen to the Iraqi who, after all, should know their own country the best

Is anyone listening?