“The reality in Iraq is very different from that portrayed in the international media,” said the Iraq ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily in a talk at American University sponsored by the Mohammed Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace on February 18. The focus in the media on violence in Iraq and the identification of sectarianism as the root cause of that violence creates what he called a “sectarian meta-narrative,” that is far too simplistic and that has dominated not just Western media portrayal of the region but Arab media coverage as well.
Iraq has seen as surge of violence in the last year that has reached levels not seen since 2008. The unrest has been driven largely by discontent among the Sunni Arab minority and by the civil war in neighboring Syria. U.S. troops withdrew from the country in December 2011, following the Iraq War.
“It is easier to define a country in binary terms; to find simple, sellable elements to hone in on in the media. Violence has long stopped being sectarian in nature since about 2006-2007,” the ambassador said.
“Dictatorship changes the fabric of society,” he explained, referring to the regime of Saddam Hussein. “The longer and more ruthless the dictatorship, the longer it takes to shake off that coat, if you will."
Psychologically, he explained, there is a need for cleansing after living so long in those circumstances. “Dictatorship demoralizes people,” he said. “It makes for a more inward-looking, self-centered community and the longer it lasts, the more adverse the effect.”
Placing Iraq in the context of the Arab Spring movement, Ambassador Faily described the mindset of the people as, “I want change, but I am not sure what the new social contract should look like.” He noted: “This is a young democracy and more people participation is needed.”
Ambassador Faily stated his hope for the lifting of all outstanding UN Security Council restrictions and asked for international respect for Iraq’s sovereignty.
Addressing the Syrian conflict, the ambassador reaffirmed Iraq’s support of a negotiated settlement as the only hope for a resolution. “Political resolution is the only solution, not military intervention. We have been the only country in the region to have this consistent position on Syria. We are also very vocal on the Middle East as a nuclear-weapon-free zone.”