The Week in Iraq is a weekly assessment of significant incidents and trends in Iraqi civilian casualties by IBC's news collector and Recent Events editor Lily Hamourtziadou.

The analyses and opinions presented in these commentaries are personal to the author.

Recent weeks

Healing the wounds of the past
  18 Jan 2009

Happy New Year
  11 Jan 2009

The sad numbers
  31 Dec 2008

  21 Dec 2008

The farewell kiss
  14 Dec 2008

Regrets –he’s had a few…
  7 Dec 2008


The Week in Iraq

Healing the wounds of the past

by Lily Hamourtziadou

18 Jan 2009

‘Twinned with Baghdad,’ reads the headline.

‘Iraqi educators learn about healing sectarian strife from those who have seen it up close’ (Henry McDonald, The Guardian, Tuesday 20 January 2009).

‘St Patrick's academy in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, is twinned with a secondary school in Baghdad.’ The aim is to learn about conflict resolution, about living in peace with old enemies, about looking ahead to a shared future.

Recently appointed director of the British Council in Baghdad, Tony Reilly, believes that education is the key to healing the sectarian fissures that started to crack all over Iraq once Saddam Hussein was overthrown. "The Iraqi minister of education said to me that education is the valve for peace and prosperity in Iraq," Reilly said.

Moreover, the trip to Northern Ireland by a group of Iraqi education experts, junior education ministers and the education minister of the Kurdish regional government is also part of learning from a "good example".

It is a common view that education can ‘build bridges’. Education is considered by many a way to ‘create’ enemies, as well as friends. The construction of the Other through national education has been studied and illustrated by academics and historians, and it has been established that education can certainly contribute to our ideas of ‘enemies’ and ‘friends’.

Ethnic conflict, though, is not so easily resolved, especially when there is such a high civilian death toll. However hard we try to teach a divided society that they should all pull together as friends and build a common peaceful future, the dead won’t go away. National reconciliation cannot be achieved through words alone. Actions are also needed, that is, actions aimed at dealing with the past, doing justice by those who fell victims to years of violence.

Move forward, look forward: this is what the new American President wants to do. He wants to start a new era, adopt a new approach, build a new world. But the future cannot start to bring any long-term rewards if the past is not dealt with first.

Both the Americans and the Iraqis need to hold those responsible for the deaths of thousands of people accountable. In America and in Iraq, those who dropped bombs on innocent civilians, those who planted roadside bombs, those who placed bombs in markets, those who kidnapped and tortured to death people from the ‘other side’… all those killers should be brought to justice. For the deaths of nearly 100,000 Iraqi civilians. For the deaths of over 4,000 American soldiers. For those who are still meeting violent deaths.

As President Obama takes office, there is wide-spread optimism, there is hope that the old way of seeing the world in good/evil terms and the old readiness to use military force are a thing of the past. But not everything can be a thing of the past –the past and its ghosts can never go away until the dead, and all those to whom they mattered, get the justice and the closure they deserve.