Despite being completely overshadowed by the developing Israel-Palestine histrionics, President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, took the podium before the assembled United Nations General Assembly last Friday. His speech detailed a sanguine vision of Iraqi democracy anchored in peace and the rule of law. He extolled the need for a post-sectarian state, unencumbered by ethnic or factional affiliations.
“This is the basis for the path which we are moving on and continually implementing,” Talabani told the annual general debate.
Emphasizing Iraq’s successful elimination of sanctions imposed as a consequence of Saddam Hussein’s misadventure in Kuwait, Talabani implored the international community to seek investment opportunities in the country’s rich hydrocarbon reserves. Touting Iraq’s security gains, the Iraqi president remarked that the military is capable of combating terrorism when the United States withdraws its troops at the end of the year.
Talabani ended his address with a note of good neighborliness, stating his respect for international obligations and liberal institutionalism. Moreover, he urged Turkey and Iran to resort to diplomacy and dialogue to settle their dispute with the Kurdish community. Both states are currently shelling the semi-autonomous Iraqi region with heavy ordnance.
All told, it was a relatively cheerful, optimistic, and ambitious speech on the part of Talabani. Sadly, it was altogether dishonest. Besides the fact that America may not be leaving at theend of the year, noble overtures to neighbors who are currently bombing your sovereign domain ring hollow. Iraq does enjoy a wealthy reserve of oil and natural gas, but the state still lacks the infrastructure to effectively capitalize on its buried fortune. Sectarian violence is reaching hysteric proportions.
If soccer really can help us explain the world, then FIFA’s announcement barring Iraq from hosting soccer matches — including qualifiers for the upcoming 2012 Olympics and 2014 World Cup — due to security concerns is instructive. The prohibition came on the same day as Talabani’s cheerful address.
Iraq had previously hosted games at the Francois Hariri Stadium in the northern Iraqicity of Arbil, most recently on Sept. 2 when the hosts and 2007 Asian champions lost 2-0 to Jordan. That was at the height of the American military surge. Things have obviously deteriorated since that time. Recent violence has been glossed over, but General Assembly hyperbole aside, it’s alarming.
But what does this really mean? It’s important to understand that for Iraqis, soccer is more than a game. It is, perhaps, the one unifying aspect within a fractious society, brutally delineated by decades of violence and bloodshed. FIFA, soccer’s governing body, has determined — on the same dayas their official UN address — that security in the Iraq has deteriorated to point that home games cannot be played. It’s a shame…the 2007 Asia Cup win gave Iraqis something to cheer about for the first time in years. As opposed to corrupt and greedy politicians, the national squad showed that Iraqis could come together to produce a positive result for the people. For a brief moment, the world caught a glimpse of a unified nation. It’s a sad fact that the people won’t be able to see their heroes, together on the pitch, for years to come.