In the present circumstances, my decision to visit Iraq may be interpreted as being normal, adventurous, or courageous. When I received the invitation to participate in a research and intellectual meeting spanning over four days to be held in Baghdad, including several regional and international think-tanks, the instinctive decision was unconsciously “Yes, I will intend gladly.” Given this would be my first visit to Baghdad to participate in a dialogue session, I had an unthinkable feeling inside, a mixture of joy and sadness. I can’t explain the feeling, as it was difficult to explain but I quickly took a hold of myself and proceeded with a relative cautious joy and pleasure.
It was a Thursday, when the Saudi Airplane departed King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah where all the passengers on board where Iraqi visitors and pilgrims returning to their country. I was the only Saudi person on the plane. It was exactly two hours and twenty minutes before we landed in Baghdad’s International Airport which was built by the late Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein in 1982. After a short break following the reception procedures, a special car picked me up heading to the “Green Zone,” as my residency was placed in the Prime Ministry Guesthouse Palace. On my way, my eyes were fixed on the road and the signs that showed the names of Iraqi cities and suburbs. I was excited, at the possibility of taking some photos during my visit. I will leave, for another day the discussions that unfolded at the dialogue session, preferring to focus instead on my personal observations and impressions about Iraq and the Iraqis.
In fact, I realized in the short period of observing Baghdad and its people that “the perfect does not have to be the enemy of good.” Despite the intensive security that the hosts delivered for our safety, reflecting Baghdad’s state of insecurity, where our transmission in the capital and through the country was difficult, I was able to visit some places for a very short time. I noticed that Baghdad’s streets, markets and restaurants were overcrowded. For example, last Friday, we had our dinner in a restaurant in Baghdad’s Midtown outside the “Green Zone,” I was amazed to see that Baghdadi families were living their normal lives. At one corner, you could find a singer humming Iraqi heritage lyrics and an audience around him living the moment.
Iraqis have embedded in them the pure Arab atmosphere that makes them cling to their history- the past, present and future. They are really upholding the Arab civilization every day and in detail. If we talk about Baghdad alone, you will find numerous historical sites and monuments that cannot be ignored such as the “Harun Rashid, Mansur, Dar Hikma, Abu Nawas, Rusafa, Musayyab, Karrada, Karkh, Adhamiya, Kadhimiya, Mutanabi sites and monuments. Here in Baghdad, Arab civilization can be sensed, via the existence of science, knowledge, literature, poetry, poetic jokes and the beauty of the Tigris River. Most of the street names, takes one back in time to the early schooling years, with fond memories of having learnt them in literary and history classes. At that time, for me they were only names, stories and poems that were forgotten quickly, but for the young Baghdadi students they are real as they learn the names and visualize them in reality, in streets and alleys of their city. Will they forget like me and others? I think it is Impossible.
Arabism is a precious Iraqi treasure that Iraqis should not squander regardless of their religion or doctrine, it adds to the Arab depth that will not disappear because of time, and will be in the future as a critical page in the shining book of Iraq’s long history.
In my conversation with the Iraqi officials and citizens, I found a state of joy and warmth that is almost inexhaustible, especially when they were aware that I am from Saudi Arabia. I heard words like, “We are one people,” and other words of respect and appreciation bearing the warm inner feelings.
During the visit, I met some Iraqi dignitaries such as the Prime Minister Haider Abadi, members from the cabinet and parliamentarians. Various debates took place about Iraq and its relationship with neighboring Arab and foreign countries. There was much interest in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Sunni areas in Anbar, Mosul and in other cities. The present and the future of Iraq and its people were discussed as well. I will not quote the views, because they are “off the record.” Nevertheless, I heard promising and encouraging views, and it seems that Prime Minister Haider Abadi has a national project despite the political harassment and the constant pressures he faces. He stressed his determination to make the road map for Iraq’s Vision 2030. In fact, I have heard from Prime Minster Haider Abadi sharp criticism of outsiders that we might not have expected to be criticized in Iraq.
A country like Iraq must rise and recover from the crises that it has been exposed to over the years. To achieve this, Iraq needs more openness with its Arab depth. It is essential that the Arab and Gulf countries stand with Iraq and its people, regardless of their sects and affiliations in a brotherly position to serve the interests of the two sides. There also seems to be an Iraqi need for foreign investment, especially from the Gulf, there may be some obstacles but they must be overcome quickly. Investors need reassurances and guarantees to enter the Iraqi market, and the Iraqi government must speed up the process of combating corruption and reducing bureaucratic procedures. Also, it needs to intensify the work to move away from the stage of security concern to building a strong economy and a comprehensive national project.
To sum up, some people may think that I am presenting a rosy picture for Iraq. “Yes” there are people in Iraq who do not want to see the existence of close relations between Iraq and its Arab and Gulf extensions, and are always working to demonize these neighboring countries to prevent the achievement of convergence. Such people are working mostly with an Iranian propaganda agenda that seeks to dominate Iraq and its capabilities, to keep it away from its natural environment and depth. This can only be overcome through continuous communication between Iraq and the rest of the Arab and Gulf countries. Such communication will accelerate the process of Iraq’s integration with its surroundings, but this requires an extraordinary effort on both sides, and most importantly, building confidence between the various governments.
Translated Material: Watan SA
Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of The Arabain GCIS