Interview with Mark Kukis, author of Voices from Iraq

“The experience of the U.S. invasion and occupation scarred the country much more deeply than even I as a correspondent there imagined.”—Mark Kukis

Mark Kukis

In a recent interview with Time magazine, Mark Kukis discussed his recently published book Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 as well as the current situation in Iraq and future prospects for the country.

Kukis wrote the book to give Iraqis a voice as a way to counteract their under-representation in the U.S. media. He discovered that most Iraqis were genuinely glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein but fault the United States for many policies enacted during the occupation, particularly its disbanding of the Iraqi army.

Iraqis, Kukis believes now see many of the problems confronting the country as the responsibility of the Iraqi government even if they are a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. Here are some excerpts from the interview in which Kukis considers how Iraqis view their future:

What does Iraq’s near-term future look like to them? Do you agree?

The near-term future looks rather bleak to many Iraqis, mainly because of the persistently high violence. No nation can think of itself as normal or stable when bombs kill and maim hundreds each year in the biggest urban areas. I believe Iraq will grow economically in the coming years and return to its status as one of the most developed and wealthiest nations in the Middle East. You can have economic growth and high violence at the same time.

But most Iraqis I suspect will find little solace in economic gains so long as violence endures at the current levels, and there is little to suggest it will be easing. So, yes, I tend to join those in Iraq with a fairly dim view of the future given the violence.

What about the country’s long-term future?

Iraq’s oil resources are likely to bring significant wealth to the country in the years ahead, regardless of the level of violence. Where that wealth goes will determine Iraq’s fate. If that wealth simply flows into the hands of Iraq’s ruling elites and their foreign patrons, as has been the case in the past, then I think Iraq will continue to undergo violent turmoil indefinitely.

That’s the path Iraq is currently taking. The sitting government seems more interested in its own survival and enrichment than investing in the future of the country. Better leadership could change Iraq’s course. Perhaps that sounds a bit obvious, but nothing is more true when trying to see the long-term picture for Iraq. Unless there is some reasonably equitable distribution of Iraq’s immense oil wealth among the country’s main factions, violent conflict among them will persist.

Are they happy or nervous about the looming U.S. troop pullout?

On this question Iraqis have pretty clear feelings, and they fall into two categories based on sectarian identity. Shi’ites tend to be glad about the U.S. withdrawal. Thanks for getting rid of Saddam and leaving us in power, many would say. Now please go before you screw anything else up for us. This has pretty much been the stance of the Iraqi government and its supporters since 2006.

Disempowered Sunnis tend to want the United States to remain, or at least remain heavily involved. Sunnis largely see the United States as the only thing that can prevent the newly empowered Shi’ite majority from ruthlessly marginalizing them.

Those fears are well founded, I believe. The Sunni minority in Iraq is in for hard times. They will face increasing economic dislocation, especially if sectarian violence remains high. Car bombs by Sunni militants draw deep anger from Shi’ites into whole Sunni communities. This anger manifests itself in ways ranging from job discrimination to extrajudicial government arrest sweeps. The Sunnis definitely have the most to lose amid a fading U.S. presence in Iraq, and they know this acutely.

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