Friday, August 20, 2004

Quarterly Essay: Mission Impossible, by Paul McGeogh

I picked up Paul McGeogh's Quarterly Essay on Iraq from the library yesterday, titled Mission Impossible. Lousy title, but a very informative essay. It's not like anything else I've read on the subject.

I think McGeogh has been in the country for at least a year. There's quite a bit of local colour. It's refreshing to read of Muslims as civilised people, instead of the usual barbaric terrorist line we are fed about them. Mosques, food, manners and culture are nicely described.

The premise of the essay is that the Americans have not done enough homework about the political realities of Iraq - the tribal system that predates Islam. No one in Iraq thinks in terms of the nation state, like we do. People are loyal to their tribe.

These political complexities - Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and their competing interests - have not been thought about deeply enough by the Bush administration. Not to mention the enormous insensitivities - or just downright ignorance - to Iraqi culture.

What is the answer to the myriad of problems facing Iraq? The US must start appealing to the Sheiks - where most of the real power lies - for help. Democracy can't be just imposed from top down onto an ancient Arab culture. Nor can it be done in some 12 months.

Mc Geogh isn't too optimistic about the future for Iraq. He thinks there will inevitably be much more bloodshed in the future, leading who knows where.

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