Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2015 – The international community must do more to help with the humanitarian and cultural crisis in Iraq, the country’s ambassador to the United States has appealed.
“There is a tremendous requirement of support from international countries, international donors, organizations, to help us,” Ambassador Lukman Faily told CNA. “This is a regional challenge, an Iraqi challenge, a global challenge.”
There are currently around 2 million internally displaced persons in Iraq, and an additional number of refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war, Faily said.
This has created a challenge for the government to help them, exacerbated by falling oil prices that have cut around 40 percent of the country’s income, he explained.
Members of religious and ethnic minorities that have been displaced by forces of the Islamic State and are homeless together – Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims – “are peaceful,” the ambassador said, but require immediate aid which the government cannot always give.
“Some irreversible damage took place to the character of Iraq” when these minorities were displaced and “the historic sites and artifacts of their cultures were destroyed,” he acknowledged.
“We as a government are doing our best. Sometimes the best is not good enough because of the scale of the challenge. There we need international support,” he said. Some of the internally displaced persons are in areas that are simply “not accessible,” he added.
“Iraq has said we are opening our doors to all countries to help with international refugees,” he said, but the international community must help as well.
Iraq already had around 1 million internally displaced persons before 2014, when forces of the Islamic State swept across northern Iraq and killed, tortured, and displaced myriads of residents who were not Sunni Muslims. Many of the displaced have been forced to live in refugee camps or makeshift shelters.
Faily, who has served as the Iraqi ambasssador to the United States since 2013, was speaking at the Rumi Forum for Interfaith Dialogue and Intercultural Understanding in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 29 about “Ethno-Religious Dynamics in Iraq.”
The modern nation-state of Iraq is home to a complex mosaic of religious and ethnic cultures, built upon multiple historic civilizations going back 3,000 years, he explained. The country’s transition to democracy after 2003 has thus been arduous, and complicated in its quest for peace.
There is still a challenge of dialogue among the religious and ethnic minorities that must be met, he insisted, and ultimately the goal is “healthy discussion in a controlled environment.”
However, there are many challenges for this discussion to even take place, he acknowledged. At the forefront is a daily environment of violence and terrorism that leaves no time for the peaceful environment required for intellectual and spiritual dialogue between communities.
“Imagine living the 9/11 all the time,” he said. “That’s what we have in Iraq.”
“It doesn’t give you the leeway to think intellectually, to talk about fundamental issues such as the identity of others.”
Another challenge is the rise of the Islamic State – also known as ISIS, Daesh, or ISIL – the terror group that has fomented radicalization and polarization especially through the use of social media. They are “very active in promoting ideas,” the ambassador acknowledged.
The West has “given us all these [communications] platforms,” he said, but with no “filter to find out what is adversarial” and what is “advantageous,” thus sowing “seeds for future troubles for us.”
“Who is policing social media to the extent that a rumor is fiction or fact?” he asked.
Also, Iraq has traditionally not been known for sectarian conflict, the ambassador said, but now it is being “allowed to prevail” because of state corruption.
“They [ISIS] depend on polarizing societies,” the ambassador said, insisting that Iraq must prevent polarization “to the extent that it doesn’t allow for the other to exist.”
However, the peaceful minority communities themselves do not understand each other and this presents another challenge for a unified Iraq, the ambassador added.
“I have to admit, our educational systems was written by rulers for the sake of rulers,” he said, with no “humanities” classes on the “composition of Iraq” and the “cultural narratives of the others.”
“So to that effect, we are ignorant of the composition of Iraq to the degree we should know,” he said.
Ultimately, the solution for peace in the country must include a “global social contract” between the communities in Iraq, with “universal values” that are “based on what do we want to project the diversity of Iraq,” he said.
The international community must also be aware of the plight of minorities who have been attacked and displaced by the Islamic State, the ambassador concluded.
It is the “cradle of civilization … where human identities and histories were formed,” he said.