Thursday, September 27, 2007

Iraq Watch: Unity Through Horror

[The Iraq Memory Foundation intends eventually to build a museum at the site of the Swords of Qādisīyah, which Saddam Hussein built before the end of the Iran-Iraq war to celebrate his "victory." The war ended in stalemate. Those are bronze casts of Saddam's arms you're looking at, accurate down to every hair. The sword is made out of melted stainless steel, in part from guns and tanks of dead Iraqi soldiers. My New School Free Press column on Iraq was bumped to a monthly installment. Here is #2, which runs in next Tuesday's issue.]

On Al Iraqiya T.V., a weekly one-hour program hosts a round table discussion of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Jews, Christians and Turkomen. They reflect on how they survived Saddam Hussein's society of surveillance, imprisonment and torture.

"We equate peoples' suffering with each other," Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile who founded the Memory Foundation, which produces the show, told me this summer over the phone. "Suddenly, Kurds see that their experience has been parallel to Arabs, and Shiites see their experience has happened to Sunnis, and Sunnis see that they, too, have seen what other people have gone through."

The Memory Foundation started after the invasion in 2003. Since then, the group has built an immense archive of Baath Party documents, works of art by Iraqis and personal testimonies of Baath crimes. All of it is available for perusing on the group's website,

"We are on our way to creating a living history," Makiya said.

But their work faces numerous roadblocks. Over two million people have escaped Iraq—including level-headed professionals integral to building a free and fair society. That has left the country, and its 170,000 internally displaced families, largely under the control of warring Shiite militias and the homegrown terrorist group, Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Shiite militias, posing as police, have slaughtered Sunnis. Al-Qaeda terrorists have assassinated reconciliation advocates.

And the Memory Foundation mostly runs on grants. Makiya told me this Monday that the television program will be shut down at the end of September because its funds have run out.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution to impose a "soft partition" on Iraq, dividing it into three semi-autonomous regions to make "breathing room" for reconciliation. Forcing Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds into new borders will not stop the ethnic cleansing, but fuel it. Lawmakers should focus their attention on groups like the Memory Foundation, because Iraqis need a unifying force.

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