Iraq: The calm before the storm?

October 15, 2008

 As soon as my plane landed in Baghdad airport earlier this month, I was struck by how much appeared to have changed since I left in March after more than three years’ reporting in Iraq.

 Flights were landing from across the Middle East — Beirut, Amman, Damascus and Dubai — bringing many Iraqis back home after the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.

 The dark, third world airport, packed with Iraqis still fleeing violence when I left seven months earlier, was cleaner, better lit and more efficient. For the first time, guards were using X-ray machines to check incoming bags.

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 Baghdad itself had also changed.

 For a city that used to shut down at 5 p.m., it seemed to be full of life once more. I have never seen it looking more beautiful.

 Iraqis were gradually but cautiously returning to their normal lives, spending time at parks and restaurants and going out at night. They seemed less worried about Sunni-Shi’ite conflict.

 The mood amongst the Iraqi staff in the Reuters news bureau was different too. Each one has been touched by the violence that swept the country over the past five years and most had moved their families abroad. Many had to stay in shared rooms in the bureau because it was too dangerous to travel to and from work each day.

 Now, these rooms are only occupied when employees visit from outside Baghdad.

 You can sense hope in the air.

 Some people attribute the drop in violence to the anti-al Qaeda Awakening – the Sunni forces that now control the once restive Sunni Arab areas. Others link it to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s defeat of the Shi’ite Mehdi Army militia, loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

 Many Iraqis say all they wanted from a “new democratic Iraq” was security. But for years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, even some of his opponents have yearned for the stability they felt under his rule.

 Could their hopes finally be realised?

 Conversations with senior Iraqi officials in the past few days suggest the optimism may be premature.

 Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians spoke of “bad news” ahead. They talked of deep political divisions, and assassinations ahead of the provincial elections expected in January.

 A senior Sunni Arab official, wishing me a happy Eid last week, said: “I wish I could mean this. Nothing has really changed since you have last visited.”

 A Shi’ite official pleaded: “Please be careful, we are expecting lots of problems. Don’t be fooled by the current security situation.”

7 comments

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The evils that are created in the name of “religion” are
clearly shown in the Middle East. Shiites, Sunni’s, whatever, are in the absurd position of “My daddy can lick your daddy; My way of worship is better’n your way.”
If they can’t get it together, the future of those areas will remain dismal.

From some of what people write, you’d think they want Iraq to collapse into chaos, hmm who’s agenda does that advance…oh well it’s nice to see some people are always willing to look for the bad and hope for the worst.

Posted by Frank Castle | Report as abusive

After hundreds of years of hate between the two groups, why is that their own intellect’s don’t have the ability to maintain a peace and truce amongst themselves. You can’t want and not want as it is you can’t need and not need. Peace does come with a price and it’s apparent that America has paid that price for them.

Posted by JeffS | Report as abusive

The author of this article obviously began with a tonal bias to her reporting and conclusions. What she failed to account for is the effect the military surge of U.S. forces had in this security situation. Neither the anti-al Qaeda Awakening Councils nor Prime Minister al- Maliki’s forces would have been able to have any success without the umbrella presence of large-scale U.S. forces. Unreported are the facts that this presence has been a compelling factor in Jordan’s King Abdullah to strongly support the U.S in the region and Lebanon’s move to oust Syria from within its borders. It also convinced Libya to renounce terrorism. The truth often lies outside the story here.

Posted by D. Ward | Report as abusive

So despite McCain’s sneer against Biden’s tripartite division of Iraq, it looks like the good Senator from Delaware got it right after all.

Posted by Jonathan Bricklin | Report as abusive

The conditions prove Iraqis can choose not to engage in violence, as evidenced by the prolonged quiet among the Sadrists. As I argue in the essay “Chaos and Chaos,” it is time for the US to withdraw, perhaps leaving behind a structure like the Iraq Transitional Assistance Group, and allow the Iraqis to reconcile. We have loosed several different fights in Iraq, and we have been unable to end any of them. At least we can end the anti-occupation fight by ending the occupation. With the apparent difficulties attendant to the US – Iraq negotiations on a bilateral security arrangement, this is now an imperative and perhaps our only remaining way forward.

I think D Ward missed the point of the article. The author stated that she could sense a difference in Baghdad between when she left in March and when she arrived seven months later. The point of her article, clearly reflected in her title, is that this difference (in security, hope) could be very short-lived – the calm before the storm. The author did mention the views of some regarding the possible cause in the improvement in the security situation, and yes, she could have mentioned the so-called ‘surge’, but that wasn’t the main focus of her article and its omission does not detract from her point. Perhaps D Ward’s comments reflect his/her own bias.

Posted by Alfie | Report as abusive