Former Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Visits Lehigh

Billions of dollars have been spent on years of war in Iraq. Many American and coalition soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice for Iraqi freedom. Now, with a new government in place and oil once again flowing to export markets, what does the future hold for Iraq?

Last week the LU/UN Partnership provided students the rare opportunity to hear Dr. Hamid Al-Bayati, the former Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations, discuss both the challenges and opportunities facing the fledgling democracy.

Al-Bayati, who relentlessly opposed the cruel regime of Saddam Hussein, told the packed house, “I will never keep quiet again.” Even though he was tortured and nearly executed, he said, “I felt I was happy, because I was working for noble things. The best thing you can do in your life is stand for a good cause.”

He said that after years of being repressed, people in Iraq are slowly adapting to the unfamiliar freedoms under the new constitution and democracy. Al-Bayati said, “I keep saying that the Iraqi people start to learn how to shout at each other in the Parliament instead of shoot at each other. Because in the old days, it was about oppression and killing and torture, now they start to debate in Parliament, to settle their disputes through ballot boxes rather than bullet boxes.”

Iraq’s youth in particular is taking advantage of their political freedoms. Al-Bayati said that there is a movement to reduce the minimum age to join the Parliament. He also mentioned that many students participate in Youth Parliament, which holds elections in the provinces of Iraq. With 40% of Iraq’s population under the age of 15 years old, he said that a generation of Iraqis is becoming prepared to lead the country.

The former Ambassador said, “I think we have the potential to have a stable country-- political stability and economic stability—it depends on good governance.” With the upcoming elections on April 30, he said, “We could have a new government.”

Saddam Hussein left Iraq with many problems, creating “false divisions among the country,” causing two destructive wars, and inviting UN sanctions that devastated the economy. Al-Bayati said, “We try to heal all the injuries we have inherited.”

Now, Iraq is struggling to deal with the reemergence of sectarian violence that started in 2013. Al-Bayati said that Al-Qaeda is spilling over from Syria, “They attack villages, they kill people, they try to attack Shia and blame the Sunnis, they attack Sunnis and blame the Shia. So the sectarian war now is strong again.” He continued, saying, “I don’t think they will succeed, because in general, Iraqi people are against all kind of sectarian wars, sectarian discrimination. So, they might cause some problems, but I don’t think they will succeed.”

He said that terrorism needs to be fought with education and ideology, that it’s not just a matter of education or economic reasons. He emphasized that Osama Bin Laden was educated and came from a rich family and that “nobody blows themselves up for money.” He pointed out that a car bomb does not distinguish between a Sunni and a Shia and that terrorists don’t see killing as a sin—they believe that they are sending people either to heaven or hell.

“We bring them together by educating them that we are all human beings to one big family; we are all the children of Adam and Eve, according to all holy books: the Bible, the Old Testament, the Quran,” he said. “So we should look to each other as humans, not as Arabs or Kurds or Muslims or Christians or Jews or Sunnis and Shia. That’s the way we should educate people, not only in Iraq but everywhere in the world, because those who are killing people are killing members of their (larger, philosophical) family.”

By Kelsey Leck