Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Pressure Cooker

“People’s homes are like the cells of a prison. And Iraq is the prison.” A friend of CPT here in Baghdad gave this assessment of his country during a recent visit. His neighborhood is adjacent to an area that has been the scene of daily clashes between insurgents and Iraqi National Guard troops.

“Things are such in my country that we can’t trust anybody. We don’t know if we are with a friend or an enemy.” Another friend used these words to describe how it feels to travel the roads outside of Baghdad.

Those of us here on the ground see a different picture of Iraq than the one being painted by the American government and some American media. It is also a different picture than the one being painted by some Arabic media and governments. It seems as if both Western and Middle Eastern governments and media are using broad brushstrokes to try and paint over each other’s vision of events in this troubled land.

One analogy that seems relevant is that of a pressure cooker. For decades, the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein kept a lid on all the religious, ethnic and cultural tensions that exist in Iraq. Sunni and Shi’a have issues of trust that stretch back for centuries. Many of the Kurdish people of the north feel a need to create a separate country. There are tribal cultural issues that create tension within the country as well. Saddam and his henchmen repressed all of these tensions without doing anything to work on solutions. The lid of the pressure cooker was put on so tightly that when the Coalition forces blew the lid off in March of 2003 everything spewed all over the “kitchen”. What seems to be happening right now is that the Interim Government of Iraq and the Multinational Forces are trying to scoop up the mess, throw it back into the pot and push another lid on it. They are recreating the same unresolved issues of conflict that have plagued the country for more than twenty years.

Our friends, partners and contacts here in Iraq are very pessimistic about the future of their country. It is my sense that the level of optimism and hope for the future is at a lower level than at any time since my arrival here in the middle of September. Even people deeply involved and committed to the electoral process here have told us that they are worried about the possibility of fair and open elections taking place in all parts of the country.

Building a decision making process built on consensus is a foundation of the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams. Building such a consensus process does not seem to be a foundation of the work of the Iraqi Interim Government or of the US led Multinational Forces. I pray that people both here and in North America can reach beyond ego driven confrontation and arrive at a place of spirit led consensus. We should resolve not to use the pressure cooker method of governing and instead use the method suggested by Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, “Governing a country is like cooking a small fish.” (translation by John Heider from “The Tao of Leadership”)

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