Friday, September 14, 2007

The Fine Art of Listening With a Grain of Salt

It's good to hear all the first-hand accounts of people's attitudes and to read attitude surveys. However, it is also important to simply just look at (a) peoples actions and (b) where they are putting their money, to the extent the two are different.

Why? Because I keep reading contradictory things and everyone who has an opinion in the region is likely used to having two opinions, one that they share with their friends and the other they share 'for the Americans' or 'the public face', as it were.

Here's one example:

The Kurdish Islam is a moderate, tolerant strain, explained Salam Barwari, head of Kurdistan’s Democracy and Human Rights Research Center. “We have a culture of pluralism,” he said. “We have 2,000 years of living together with people living around us.” Actually, there are still plenty of Arab-Kurdish disputes, but there is an ethos of tolerance here you don’t find elsewhere in Iraq.
There is no reason to doubt Tom Friedman's account or the earnestness of his source.

However, just as the Sunni insurgency was getting started, I can recall interviews with the Kurds -- who have participated in their own "reverse ethnic cleansing" in some places -- one in particular in which the officer said the US should not be surprised by sunni-arab violent attacks, calling them "a bunch of animals down there".


In any case, if you follow this reasoning, then one comes away with at least this: (a) money is finally being spent on the "hold-build" part by Iraqis for Iraqis across sectarian lines, even (but maybe not crony ones?) and (b) the Shia-led government has finally taken steps to "buy off" the skilled, secular part of the Sunni insurgency by agreeing to pay pensions and to accept some former military back on a 'contingent immunity' basis.

That's not the whole enchilada - "the Kurdistanis" are outside that purview, for one, and don't seem in much mood for, mediation from the central government on anything - and the actions are not univocal (the purging in Baghdad continues), but it is still significant.

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