Many Iraqis See Lebanon as Mirror Image

With Isam Rashid

BAGHDAD – Iraqis are beginning to see striking similarities between Lebanese civilians and themselves three years ago.

Talk on the streets of Baghdad is taking a tone of oneness with the Lebanese. Anger over the bombing of Lebanon that Iraqis say they can feel as their own has led to some of the world’s biggest demonstrations against the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. Shia militant leader Moqtada al-Sadr has led one of the largest demonstrations against Israel.

“We know very well that American politicians support Israel and sent them new bombs to attack Lebanon,” Abu Mohammed, who was a senior intelligence officer during Saddam Hussein’s regime, told IPS. “At the same time, they send aid to Lebanon, such as food and water. They did the same in Afghanistan and Iraq before. But we don’t need their aid – we need them to be out of our country and away from all of the Middle East.”

New frustration is rife within Baghdad. The United States response in support of Israel has further sharpened opposition to the U.S.-led occupying army.

“I hate American politicians because they occupy Iraq, and I hate them more because they help Israel to bomb Lebanon now,” said Baghdad resident Uday Adel. “I feel ashamed of Arab politicians when they asked Bush for help to stop this war against Lebanon.”

Asked how he felt about Israeli civilians who were killed or injured by Hezbollah rockets, Uday said he was opposed to all killing of innocent people.

“But this is war, and Israel chose this way,” he said. “Hezbollah wants to resist Israel and their weapons are old, this is why they use Katyusha [rockets]. This is a very old weapon; sometimes it goes to the wrong place and kills innocent Israeli people. Israel has new weapons, but they intend to kill innocent Lebanese people.”

Much of the outpouring of anger comes from Iraqi Shias in sympathy with Shia Hezbollah, apart from empathy over the bombing of civilians. But concern and sorrow over what the Lebanese have suffered appears to be universal throughout Baghdad.

“I was shocked when I saw that all of the world did nothing to stop this war,” said Nora al-Samarrai in Baghdad. “This is a good time to see how much American politicians support Israel against the Arabs. I hope all the Arab people begin understanding how Israel is a big enemy against the Arabs, supported by the U.S. and most of Europe’s countries.”

Nora compared the response of Arab leaders in the Lebanon conflict to similarly inadequate action against the United States intervention in Iraq.

“This isn’t the first time, Arab politicians did this before with Iraq when the U.S. forces attacked in 1991, 1998, and 2003. Arab politicians don’t represent the Arab people, they represent themselves only.”

The continued fighting in their own country has added to the particular connection Iraqis feel with events in Lebanon.

Abu Mohammed said Iraq had really been at war since 1980 (when the eight-year war with Iran began), with little reprieve. “Our hearts are with the innocent people in Lebanon. We know very well what war means.”

Some Iraqis spoke of the hand of Iran behind the scene in the Lebanon war. Since the rise of Shias in Iraq, many Sunnis see Iranian conspiracies behind their troubles.

“I think the war against Lebanon is big Iranian game to keep Iran safe from the United States and Israel,” said Baghdad resident Wisam Ashkah. “Hezbollah is an Iranian party and they serve Iran, and the big loser in this war is the Lebanese people.”

Wisam Ashkah added, “I am ready to help them with all of my money, and my life also.” He qualified this offer, however, saying that Iraqis feel helpless, and do not know where to begin to offer their support.

Abu Mohammed said the opposition to the United States transcends any Sunni-Shia divisions. “The Sunni in Iraq will be with the Shia in Iraq and with Lebanon and Syria against the U.S. troops and Israel. We are all Arab and Muslims.”

Nora al-Samarrai said she felt with the people in Lebanon “because we have the same machine for killing, and I hope one day we will see the American people in an uprising against their bad politicians and change them for new politicians working for peace.”