Sunday, March 07, 2010

Now the walls say “Long Live Barcelona”.


After extensive travels outside of Baghdad, Nir Rosen reports:

As worldwide attention has returned to Iraq in the run-up to the March 7 elections, a new chorus of worry has emerged, concerned that the corrupt political manoeuvring of some Shiite parties – who have succeeded in banning prominent nationalist and secularist candidates under the thin pretence of de-Baathification – would lead first to a Sunni boycott and then to renewed sectarian violence and war. But just as the dismantling of the Sunni Awakening groups last year failed to produce the disaster many analysts predicted, the results of the election seem unlikely to stoke the embers of a new insurgency.

The continued sectarian exhortations of Iraqi politicians have been met with cynicism by the public, whose support for religious parties has diminished considerably. Iraqis are still “sectarian” to a degree: most Shiites prefer the company of Shiites and Sunnis the company of Sunnis. The vitriol and hatred of the war have faded, but a legacy of bitterness and suspicion remains. What has gone is the fear of the other – and it is this fear that led to the rise of the militias and the sectarian religious parties.

During my travels in Iraq last month – in the capital and, more importantly, in the surrounding provinces of Diyala, Babil, and Salahuddin – I found Sunnis and Shiites alike talking of the civil war as if it were a painful memory from the distant past. Just as the residents of Northern Ireland refer obliquely to “the Troubles”, Iraqis speak of “the Events” or “the Sectarianism” – as in, “my brother was killed in the Sectarianism”. Uneducated Iraqis might even say “when the Sunni and Shiite happened.”
If you are really interested in Iraq, you owe it to yourself to read the whole thing.
On my trips to Iraq in years past, I made a habit of scanning the walls of Baghdad neighbourhoods for bits of sectarian graffiti, spray-painted slogans that were pro-Mahdi Army, pro-Saddam, anti-Shiite or pro-insurgency. This time, however, there were almost none to be found; the exhortations to sectarian struggle had been replaced with the enthusiasms of youthful football fans: now the walls say “Long Live Barcelona”.
Image: Electioneering.

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