After a traditional Iraqi lunch over the weekend with some of my Iraqi-American friends, the discussion turned to politics and the future of Iraq. After much debate, we agreed on one thing. We may belong to different religions, sects, and ethnicities, but our differences are insignificant. We are all Iraqi.
Despite our different backgrounds, we enjoy the same food and celebrate similar holidays. Back in Iraq, we suffered the same pain through wars and hunger. In Iraq, we had never chosen a friend based on his or her religion or beliefs. We did not offer to help our neighbors based on the language they spoke. And we did not marry for the sake of sect, but for love.
And we are not unique.
Many see sectarian strife and hatred in Iraq after the 2003 invasion as a sign of weakness of Iraqi identity. I disagree. The ethnic conflict from 2005-2007 was political in nature, not sectarian. Those hungry for power masked their goals in sectarian terms only to mobilize the public.
The U.S. empowered sectarian and ethnic groups to consolidate control of the country. It was only after the invasion that we started to hear terms such as "Sunni people," "Shi'a neighborhoods" and "Kurdish regions." Before 2003, we called everyone "Iraqi" and described each area by its actual name — not by the name of religious or ethnic factions that live there. Large numbers of Iraqis consider these categorizations as false, even shameful.
One must be objective when looking at the past. Iraqi politicians intentionally incited ethnic divisions and sectarianism in an attempt to prevail over their rivals, and advised U.S. decision makers to rule Iraq in this divisive way as the "best option" to prevent conflicts. In reality, this governance is the main cause of problems in Iraq. Betting on divisions is a poor way to rule. This policy makes the process of decision making terribly slow and creates stalemates. For instance, Iraqis couldn’t form a full government until nearly one year after parliamentary elections.
The ongoing Arab uprisings, plus the intensifying power struggle over some key Iraqi areas like Kirkuk, may give some politicians an excuse to create more cracks inside Iraq. The victims will again be innocent Iraqis.
As American troops exit the country, the United States should stop supporting Iraqi leaders who believe in divisive and destructive policies. The US must support unity — this is the best way to further American interests and ensure a safe and stable Iraq. We are all Iraqi. Let’s act like it.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons