By Robert Tollast.
“How is electricity?”, I asked. “Excellent” replied Marwan, a young student of Physics at the University of Dhi Qar. Marwan (not his real name) is studying wireless transmission, and one of his lecturers is currently in Leicester studying with a British Council initiative to bolster the academic capacity of Iraqi universities.
Will Marwan’s lecturer return to find his university campus an empty bullet scarred shell? This might have been the case in southern Iraq in the spring uprising of 1991, or in 2003 as US Marines fought through the town of Nasiriyah.
Today, across the Kurdish region of Iraq and many areas of the expansive south, violence is often in the forefront of peoples’ minds, but this is mostly because Iraq is a nation at war. Countless Iraqis have volunteered to fight ISIL in what must surely seem like another tragic episode in a long, tragic history.
Incredible as it may seem, the war is actually quite far away for approximately 7 million Iraqi Arabs and Kurds. And their local leaders have set their sights on business, as much as the war on ISIL. Of course, local momentum isn’t much without a coordinating strategy at the national level. For the first time in decades, Iraq might have found the man to coordinate such a strategy.
Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that since June this year Iraq has confronted an existential crisis. But it is a crisis that Iraq can survive. And while it would be naive if not impossible to gloss over the tragedy that Iraq is enduring, we need to look at the whole country - a country almost the size of France, to get the full picture.
We could even allow a little room for optimism, firstly because there are vast, heavily populated areas of Iraq that are effectively walled off from ISIL. These areas host the country's only “skyscraper” style office buildings, expanding ports and the super giant oil fields that are crucial for supporting the global economy.
A second reason for a modicum of hope is that in the centre and north of the country, ISIL are being challenged by a growing (albeit peculiar) coalition. History shows us that strange coalitions are not barred from victory. On the contrary, they are essential to victory.
In terms of the geographical limits to this current terrorist blitzkrieg, think of Stalin’s tank factories that were located east of Moscow, out of reach of Hitler’s bombers, or Washington in 1864, impregnable to Confederate assaults.
Basra and Nasiriyah are similarly insulated from terrorist activity, and as long as this situation remains Iraq will probably weather this storm. The Iraqi army’s recent victory at Jurf al Sakhar is solid evidence that if anything, the approaches to the south are looking more secure than ever.