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the snake, driven out
ireland's past is iraq's future
by russ carr (@DocOrlando70)
3.20.06
news

It's 5:27 on a pleasant spring evening. Rush hour is bustling along, and people are making their way home, or heading to grocery stores and restaurants for dinner. The streets are busy, sidewalks packed.

At 5:28, a car explodes, killing 11 people.

At 5:30, a car explodes, killing 14 people.

At 5:32, a car explodes, killing 2 people.

In just four minutes, 27 innocent people are dead or dying, and hundreds more are injured.

These excruciating murders didn't take place on the streets of Baghdad, or Samarra, or Basra. They happened in Dublin, Ireland, 32 years ago this May.

Among the dead that day was the entire O'Brien family — John (23), Anne (22), Jacqueline (1) and Anne Marie (an infant). Those two little girls would be my age now, with families of their own.

Isn't it all too familiar? Sectarian violence tears a nation apart; it's civil war in all but name. An undisciplined occupying army claims to be keeping the peace but inflicts casualties as often as it takes them.

For me, Iraq is more than half a world away; it's nowhere that I've ever been. The people falling in the streets day after day after day are inconsequential to me. I don't say that to be callous; I simply don't know them, their religion, their culture, any of it. Bereft of the ruthless hand of a dictator to keep them cowed, Iraqis have erupted into civil war. It's happened before in our lifetime, in the shattered remnants of Yugoslavia and Rwanda. I don't know much about those people, either.

But I know the Irish.

I embraced my Celtic heritage as soon as I was old enough to consider it — to really think about it, that is, beyond just green clothes and cards from my Granny on St. Patrick's Day. I've examined my family tree, read dozens of books on Irish history, cherished the music, savored the beer. I've talked with expats living over here and in England, asking about their life back in Ireland and why they chose to move (jobs, mostly). And I spent nine of the best days of my life traveling the length and breadth of Ireland herself, chatting up locals in bars, in train stations, in their living rooms. I felt a connection to the land and the people that was hard to describe. It felt like being home.

So when I heard a news reader the other day talking about "sectarian violence" in Iraq, my thoughts immediately flashed to Ireland. For decades, you couldn't read a news story coming out of Ireland or Northern Ireland without that tripping over that phrase. From 1969 to 2001, a period labeled "the Troubles," 3523 people were killed by "sectarian violence" — Catholic against Protestant, Unionist against Loyalist. More than half of the dead were innocent civilians, like the O'Briens.

But now the Troubles seem to have ended. For five years now, a gradually developing peace process has diminished the fury. Both sides have agreed to approach the prospect of co-existence in Northern Ireland, first with negotiators, then with elected representatives. For the first time since 2002, steps are underway to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly — the North's self-governing body — by this summer.

The struggle in Ireland and Northern Ireland took more than 30 years to resolve. In Iraq, the United States and its allies have tried to accomplish the same thing in only three years. It's an honorable goal, but it's hopelessly shortsighted. The Sunnis and Shi'ites have not exhausted their hatred yet. They must kill and kill and kill. Nothing short of decades of bloodletting — or the rise of a new dictator with the will to enforce peace through terror — will settle this.

Are we foolish, to remain, when all of our efforts to advance Iraq's modernization and readmission to the pantheon of nations seem to be met with hostility from all that nation's parties? When the voices of those who are thankful each day to be out from under Saddam Hussein's tyranny are drowned out by angry protests and exploding cars, what are we supposed to think? Why should our kids be killed trying to keep these two angry mobs away from each other's throats? Anyone stationed at a British Army barracks in Derry or Belfast in 1972 would probably be hard-pressed to support it. I imagine the Army reservists camped near Basra tonight probably feel the same.

To the best of my research, the last car bombing in Ireland (or Northern Ireland) was in 1999. "Irish car bomb" now exists strictly in the lexicon of drunken frat-boy types crowding into pubs on St. Patrick's Day to get hammered. (Order that shot anywhere in Ireland, and you'll get the piss stomped out of you. Order it around me, and I'll at least kick you in the shin.)

The last car bombing in Iraq was just last week. Six car bombs detonated within minutes of each other, killing 58 people in Sadr City. There are no ready lists of casualties. But it's not hard to imagine that there was an O'Brien family there, too. People I didn't know, falling in the streets.

The Troubles never ended; they simply found a new home.

Beannacht Dé leat do Iraqis. God bless you all.


ABOUT RUSS CARR

If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.

more about russ carr

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
3.20.06 @ 7:27a

Amazing and poignant view. Send this to the Times or the Post.

sandra thompson
3.20.06 @ 8:17a

The Irish analogy is even better than the Vietnam analogy. Good for you for thinking of it.

dan gonzalez
3.20.06 @ 9:20a

Far better, although I never thought the Vietnam one was any good.

When the voices of those who are thankful each day to be out from under Saddam Hussein's tyranny are drowned out by angry protests and exploding cars, what are we supposed to think?

This is the key, I think, to this type of criminal resistance. There are more jobs in Iraq now, more houses with electricity and utilities, more telco infrastructure, more small businesses, etc, yet a relatively small number of malcontented assholes manage to make millions of people feel like it is a hopeless, chaotic mess.

erik myers
3.20.06 @ 10:34a

more houses with electricity and utilities, more telco infrastructure, more small businesses, etc, yet a relatively small number of malcontented assholes manage to make millions of people feel like it is a hopeless, chaotic mess.

You could just as easily be describing America there.

I do think you hit this dead on, Russ. The primary difference, I think, is that I think just as many perceive the multi-national force that's mired in there to be the cause of the violence as those who think it's cutting it down. I'm not sure there's an easy answer either way.

Sometimes I'm not sure whether it's sectarian violence, or violence toward an occupant disguised as sectarian violence ... or sectarian violence disguised as violence toward an occupant.

I think you're right in saying that there's no easy end in sight. That it's going to be years, decades, or more before it's a peaceful area.

The question is - what's the right course of action? Do we stay and try to enforce peace through weaponry (ah, irony), or do we pull out of the mess we created and hope that future generations will learn a lesson from it?

[edited]

russ carr
3.21.06 @ 12:17a

Sometimes I'm not sure whether it's sectarian violence, or violence toward an occupant disguised as sectarian violence ... or sectarian violence disguised as violence toward an occupant.

Given that most of the deaths in Iraq in recent months have been due to Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence (Sunni against Shi'ite) I'd tend to say there's no disguising it. There are still attacks against US and Allied troops, but they've diminished considerably. Now it's one side or the other driving car bombs into markets, or blowing up mosques or kidnapping and executing the other's people. Which is exactly what went on in N. Ireland and Ireland for 30 years.



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