Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani - On Syria, Iraq and the Middle East

To Intervene or not to Intervene?

A Recap from Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani’s Lecture on Syria, Iraq and the Middle East

Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani refused to live in the Green Zone in Iraq because he wanted to be more accessible to Iraqis. He wanted to hear their voices, and staying in the safe, international, Green Zone hub wasn’t going to help eliminate, or understand, really, the corruption, elitism, and sectarianism from the bottom up. 

Yet, despite his dedication and commitment to the cause, he finally quit his station there in 2007, just as he would quit it in Syria in 2012. 

On the 24th of the past month, and in a lecture titled “Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East”, which the Canadian Arab Institute co-presented with the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History and the Munk School of Global Affairs, Lamani explained his reasoning behind quitting and his take on the current dynamics of the Middle East. 

He quit because he was frustrated. Repeated foreign intervention, and the lack of a local conversation, created sectarian splits in both Iraq and Syria, preventing a tangible, sustainable solution. 

The 2005 US-authored constitution in Iraq, promoting sectarian splits, rather than equal citizenship and pluralism; and treating terrorism in Syria as a mere security issue, rather than addressing the political fragmentation, are a couple of approaches that didn’t help resolve the growing violence present in the Arab world today, to put it lightly. 

Similarly, the parties that were supposed to create a new post-US invasion Iraq weren’t helping either. They seemed to have no real interest in benefiting the local population, preferring to focus their efforts on gaining more wealth and power, creating a vacuum, or a fertile ground, for extremism to feast on. 

What, then, is to be done? Is there a solution?

Possibly, but a very bleak and time-consuming one. 

Foreign intervention will not help as long as the local powers have not reconciled. The conversation must come from within, and the international community, including Canada, can help facilitate it once it starts. But it must be a homegrown conversation first and foremost. The people on the ground must decide it, not foreign powers. 

And yes, sadly, it will take time, and lives, Lamani believes. The situation will correct itself, but just as it took the French half a century to stabilize the post-revolution chaos, the Middle East might have to go through the same bloody and lengthy process to find an alternative to the vicious circle of dictators and extremists.