By Nicholas Sauma, Opinion Editor
Most remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. But in the 10 years since, there hasn’t been much news about Iraq.
The UNO History department and Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies sponsored a Middle East Forum, the third of the series, on March 14. The forum specifically focused on Iraq in 2013, 10 years after the U.S. entered the country. Curtis Hutt, visiting professor of religious studies, moderated the discussion in a unique fashion.
“I’m not going to ask these gentlemen questions here today,” Hutt said. “Instead, I’ve talked to both beforehand about what they wanted to talk about, and then I’ll let each add to whatever comments the other might make.”
The two professors on the panel were Moshe Gershovich from the history department and Ramazan Kilinc from the political science department.
Kilinc spoke first, focusing on the evolution of democracy within Iraq since 2005. While Iraq is hardly considered a democracy by American standards, he argued that the beginnings of elections, parties and separation of powers represented a crucial step toward it.
“Most of the political actors have been socialized in authoritarian structures,” Kilinc said. “It isn’t possible to change culture immediately, but the shift in institutions leads to gradual change.”
Gershovich began by wondering why so few media outlets were focusing on the Iraq War after 10 years. Since it was such a big part of American foreign policy, and continues to be, he said perhaps the lack of support moved it out of the public memory for the time being.
Audience questions about the Kurdish people and also about the ideological split in Islam between Shia and Sunni Muslims, led to discussions about Iraq’s future.
Kilinc showed the regions of Turkey, Syria and Iraq that constituted Kurdish majorities. Both professors admitted it was possible to see an independent Kurdistan, but neither thought it was likely any time soon.
“Post World War I Britain and France set up these artificial states of Iraq and Syria, and since then, we’ve been stuck with lines drawn on a map,” Gershovich said. “Ethnic and religious minorities within each threaten the long-term viability of each state.”
Gershovich and Klinic agreed that a major problem in the Middle East is that democracy only means majority rule, but nothing about protecting or ensuring the rights of the minority. As such, Sunni and Shia Muslims, as well as secularists, often do not recognize elections that they do not win for fear they will be oppressed.
Audience questions about religion and the human costs of the war finished off the event. While Hutt originally prefaced the event with an appeal to avoid blaming any party or individual for the events that occurred in Iraq, he did entertain a question about Christianity in Iraq.
“I know the moderator doesn’t typically speak, but as professor of religious studies, you’ve raised an interesting point that few have,” Hutt said. “What people don’t realize is the Christians in Iraq have suffered worse than almost everyone else because Saddam [Hussein] is no longer there.”
He explained that while Hussein was not a kind or liberal leader, he was a secularist, and therefore was generally pretty tolerant of the practicing Christians. After the U.S. invasion, it has been mostly Islamic organizations gathering power, and many churches have been destroyed.
The forum provided great discussion, but not much resolution. Ten years after the U.S. entered Iraq, the immediate goals may have been accomplished, but there are many open ended questions about Iraq’s future.
“There will be many question marks about where Iraq lies,” Gershovich said, “not only in US policy, but internationally, as well.”