Jay Nordlinger of National Review is one of my favorite writers. This week he has been reporting from the World Economic Forum on the Middle East which is meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Yesterday he covered a meeting with Barham Salih:
The deputy prime minister of Iraq, he is one of the most impressive and valuable people in the Middle East. And he meets a group of us for coffee and a talk.
Salih says that news coverage of Iraq can be misleading: The country has great problems, but is not the disaster that is often portrayed. And Iraq has come a long way in building its security services.
I want him to talk about refugees. He only touches on them, but it’s worthwhile reading the context:
In due course, he comments that Iraq has “been afflicted by a tornado of terrorism.” Therefore, the world should not be too judgmental about Iraq and what it has been able to do thus far. He speaks of being in the U.S. at the time of the Virginia Tech massacre. It was all over television, constantly talked about, analyzed, wept over — the nation seemed “almost traumatized” by this.
Understand, says Salih, that “Iraq has ten Virginia Tech massacres almost every day.”
He says he once sat down with a suicide bomber — or rather, a fellow who had wanted to be a suicide bomber. Salih learned that the fellow had been thoroughly indoctrinated. This poor wretch had been told that, if he blew himself up — along with others, of course — he would be speeded into heaven. In 15 minutes, he would be having lunch or dinner with the Prophet.
This was the fellow’s “passport,” says Salih: a quick way out of despair.
About al-Qaeda and similar groups, Salih says this: “I have learned never to underestimate the depravity — the evil — of organizations of this type.” They will stop at nothing. They take retarded kids and send them into markets, wearing the exploding belts. These groups “have no mercy, no values.”
A journalist asks why the terrorists are killing professors, doctors, and the like. Salih answers thoughtfully.
Iraq, he says, is “the determining factor for the entire Middle East.” It will determine what people expect out of government, what the relation of religion to the state will be, and so on. Salih likes to say that Iraq “is not an island in the remote Pacific.” It is at the heart of the Middle East.
And “the religious fanatics have identified Iraq as an arena that must not be lost to a vision of decent democratic government, supported by Western power.” So they have tried to do everything to disrupt life: cutting off water supplies, blowing up infrastructure, blowing up people — paralyzing the country. Making life impossible.
As a result of this “tornado of terror,” says Salih, many of Iraq’s “most competent people” have left the country. And as deputy PM, he knows in particular that “some of the most competent bureaucrats have left.” But, with improved security, people are coming back — “not in droves,” but significantly.
That’s it. I wish he’d said more.