Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Iraqi attitudes about America

The Kurdish people of Iraq suffered under Saddam Hussein. And we fought and died alongside Americans to liberate our country. There is no ambiguity about the depth of gratitude that Kurds feel for America's sacrifices in Iraq. Americans who have been killed or wounded in Iraq are heroes to me and to all of Iraq's Kurds. We will never forget what you have done for us.

- NECHIRVAN BARZANI, Prime Minister of Kurdistan, in the Wall Street Journal

Reading this quote in the WSJ almost brought tears to my eyes. Cynics would say that the cynical and crafty Barzani was trying to manipulate American public opinion (as he manipulated mine). Politicians (and Barzani, whom I have never met or even seen, is a politician) will say a lot of things, true or untrue, for a lot of reasons. Whether Barzani personally believed these words or not, I am glad and grateful that he said them.

Unlike most Americans, who have never met an Iraqi, much less a grateful one, I had a number of Iraqis shake my hand, look me in the eye and thank me for helping to get rid of Saddam. I had a much better impression of Iraqis when I left Iraq, after ten months of closely observing their behavior, than when I arrived. I have been around the world and have visited dozens of countries, so I had some basis upon which I could make comparisons.

Yet, evaluating the Iraqis wasn't very hard. They were industrious. They had a work ethic and wanted to do well at their job. I could see that as I traveled through the cities and watched thousands of Iraqis diligently performing thousands of different, sometimes humble, tasks. They were religious, and publicly made great sacrifices for their faith. I passed many Iraqis walking through the desert on a pilgrimage to a holy site. The really interesting part was that other Iraqis in cities along their path were obligated by their faith to provide food and water to the pilgrims. Finally, they were family oriented. On holidays, the Iraqi family would parade in the park, the father holding the young daughter while the wife led the son by the hand.

There are many people in my country, great Americans, with great compassion for anyone and everyone, who would toss this Iraqi family over the side in their great haste to see the American military withdrawn from Iraq, immediately and regardless of the consequences. Or so it appears to me based on statements of certain popular American politicians. I call it the "Take my ball and go home policy." Or so it appears to me.

I respectfully disagree.

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