Engaging the Iraqi Mind

Paula Keezer, April 1, 2003


We are entering week three of the Iraq war that we were told would be very short because the Iraqi people would rise up and throw Saddam Hussein out when the Coalition invaded.  I’m still perplexed by the naivety of an administration that thinks it can read the minds of the Iraqi people.  TV scenes of men shouting “I love Saddam” and kissing pictures of Saddam contrasted with children thanking soldiers for food and water make the entire war seem surreal.  Nightly we are exposed to smiling faces of adult men and young boys raising there thumbs up to the camera while we are told in background information that Arabs view thumbs up as an insult.  We read on the web through web logs of western Iraqi communities saying “Saddam is not a bad leader” and we listen to middleclass Iraqi citizens worry about their brother, sister, mother, father, aunts, uncles and cousins during the bombing of Baghdad.  Then we hear of Iraqi expatriates rejoicing in the war to end Saddam’s regime. 


This confusing mix of Iraqi sounds and images is unsettling to this western mind.  We hear the administration spin doctors use words like ‘under the boot’ or ‘afraid to be shot’.  The press corroborates with stories of Iraqi women being shot in the back while they run to a coalition controlled side of a bridge or of Iraqi suicide bombers giving themselves up to the coalition rather then blow themselves up.  Then we see the tenacity of the Iraqi fighters slowing the coalition down to a crawl.  And we hear old Iraqi men complain that they had food, water and work before the coalition leveled their town.

The administration’s stated goal for invading Iraq is to remove the threat of weapons of mass destruction.  And a necessary part of this goal is the western liberation of Iraq.  This second part has, by far, become the most visible part of the war on Iraq.  Why would the Iraqi people want to be liberated by the west?  Now that we are in Iraq and engaged in a war against a regime that has no intention of giving up, we will have no choice but to engage the many minds of the Iraqi people.  Won’t our own western bias cause us to listen to some minds and not others?  How will we avoid imposing our own prejudices on people like the Shiites, or the desert Bedouins?  Will our arrogance be as much of a ‘boot’ to the Iraqi people as Saddam?

Iraqis are made up of a variety of peoples.  These include Kurdish tribes in the north, Shiite Muslims in the south and east, Sunni Muslims in the middle and the west.  Although these differences are important, perhaps more important are the economic differences.  City dwellers are broken up into upper class, middle class and lower class.  Even the villages will display the difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.  Coloring all of these variations is the ever-present Bath party.  Operating in what appears to be more like a gang of thugs, these people of Saddam have been purported to control the larger Iraqi population through fear and favoritism.  Don’t play the game and you die, or your family dies.  Play the game and maybe you get a nice place to live or a job.  Although this seems brutal, Iraqis learned to live in this environment.  We have now disrupted this environment. 

The change will have a profound effect over the Iraqi people but will it really change their ways?  We are already seeing how humanitarian aid is received.  The strong get the aid and sell it to the weak.  We can see it played out plainly on TV.  Perhaps we even see, but do not recognize Bath party thugs taking aid resources and then, not seen by us, using the non-Saddam resources of the humanitarian aid as leverage in their well tuned fear and favoritism methods. 

Deposing Saddam will not change how the Iraqi people think.  At least not how they think in the near term.  We are simply replacing one source of resources with another.  We think that our western way of thinking will change the fear and favoritism that has been the way of Iraqi life. 

Perhaps, if we succeed in deposing Saddam and his regime, the brutality of fear and favoritism will moderate to the more western view of reward and litigation!

Copyright Paula Keezer 2003