What future do Iraqis want?


The people of Iraq need support and help from the people of Ireland, not protests, writes Dr Ali Al Saleh.

Tomorrow will be the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. In many countries today - including Ireland - people opposed to that war will be demonstrating against the invasion which liberated my people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

But I have to ask these demonstrators some questions. Do you not want my people to enjoy democracy? Do you not want us to breathe the same air of freedom that you breathe? Can you support our constitution and our democratically-elected government?

Three years ago, about 100,000 well-intentioned but badly-informed people in Dublin protested against our liberation from one of the world's most oppressive dictatorships, against the overthrow of a regime which killed over a million Iraqis through war, oppression, ethnic-cleansing and mass murder by poison gas. But, in 2005, more than 10 million Iraqis risked life and limb in a great demonstration of democracy, in favour of change, in favour of human rights and dignity. They did this not just once, but three times. Across Europe, the anti-war demonstrators could not come even close to this number.

What are the "people" really saying? Sadly, the people of Ireland and of much of the world do not get an accurate, objective picture of what is happening in Iraq today. From reading the papers and listening to the news, one could easily conclude that Iraq is wracked with civil war and intra-religious strife from one end of the country to the other.

In fact, the troubles are mainly in four of our 18 provinces, but in those areas it is bad.

In the so-called "Sunni Triangle", a small and determined group of terrorists and Baathists, backed financially and logistically by like-minded supporters from other countries, are making a last, desperate attempt to overturn the advances we have made.

By murdering and maiming tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children, of all faiths and all ethnicities, these terrorists desperately want to establish a Taliban-type regime in Iraq which will roll back three years of progress. They want to establish a fundamentalist dictatorship which will destroy democracy, oppress women and impose a narrow interpretation of religious law that the vast majority of Iraqis would never accept.

Sadly, our brother Sunni Iraqis are victims of these terrorists too, and we know that most Sunnis do not support their actions. As much as this group is determined to pull Iraq into a civil war, the people of Iraq are determined to remain united and to hold the country together.

Critics of the war claim that the liberation of Iraq has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. But this is absolutely false. Far more people are killed by terrorist attacks than were killed in the initial invasion, and multinational forces have worked hard with our democratically-elected government to restore order and give us a secure environment in which to live and ultimately prosper.

In my own family, these losses are especially personal. My wife lost three brothers in one terrorist attack last year. Multinational forces did not kill them; instead, terrorists with no place in a free and democratic Iraq killed them. In spite of the pain of this loss, my wife believes that this terrible sacrifice is worth it for the sake of democracy. Other family members feel the same way, as do tens of thousands of Iraqis who have lost loved ones to terrorism.

Some people here are afraid that Ireland will become a target of terrorists because of American troops passing through Shannon airport. But do you have any idea how much terrorism my people endure day after day? All Western European countries put together have experienced only a tiny fraction of the terror we have suffered since the collapse of the Baathist regime. What happened in London and Madrid - terrible as those events were - happens on a daily basis in Baghdad and in other Iraqi cities.

But that will not deter us from our dream of a democratic state with a progressive constitution which will enshrine the most advanced human rights in the Muslim world. Historically, Iraq was always a model for the rest of the Arab world, a land that was a renowned centre of learning and scholarship for both Muslims and Jews. Iraq was a leader in the Arab world and it will be again, only this time we will be the role model for democracy and human rights which will spur democratic change across the Middle East.

As Iraqis living in Ireland - and that includes Shias, Sunnis and Christians as well as Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen - we are grateful to the United Nations for supporting our democratic development. We thank Ireland for recognising our government. We thank the Dáil for its resolution in March 2003 endorsing the use of Shannon airport by multinational forces acting under UN authority to support our government.

But we also have to ask these questions. Where are the aid organisations which worked in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule? Why are you not supporting the needs of our government now with the same commitment evident in the time of the Saddam regime. Iraqis today want what the Irish wanted in 1922: to live in peace, to rule ourselves, to raise our children according to the traditions of our religious faith and to be free of foreign oppressors.

The issue now is not being for or against the United States, for or against the invasion, or whether or not anyone lied about weapons of mass destruction. The only thing that matters now is supporting Iraq's democratic development and helping the Iraqi government to develop a strong and professional police and military. Then we can tell foreign military forces that their services are no longer needed, thank them for their help and ask them to leave - a goal that Iraqis, Americans, British, Irish and all free people of the world should share.

Dr Ali Al Saleh is Imam at the Ahlulalbait Islamic Centre in Milltown, Dublin