On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq Invasion, a wave of bombings through the country show how little has been achieved in producing a stable and modern nation. As I listened to a CBC radio broadcast today, I heard author and academic Kanan Makiya relate how throughout most of the country instability reigns. His view was that the West poorly understood the regional dynamics and so developed a linear and wrong view of what should be done. However, in one sector of Iraq he stated, the Kurdish zone where he spoke at a university in Sulemaniya, the country was stable, advancing economically and socially. It was a clear but isolated note of hope.
This caused me to reflect on my visit to Iraq and the contribution that Partners International made to producing a hopeful future for the Kurdish zone.
I flew into Baghdad three months after the official cessation of hostilities. It was however, far from peaceful, or safe. As I flew in, the sky was smudged with the smoke of an attacked American military convoy. Once on the ground, leaving the “Green Zone” meant facing the rampant criminality that existed due to US forces disbanding the police force and Hussein emptying the prisons as he fled. The first assassination of a non-combatant expatriate occurred while I was there as a British journalist was shot on the steps to Baghdad University. This was sadly, only the first of many more to come. I visited 3 churches while in Bagdad, picking up AK 27 shell-casings and shrapnel in the church yards.
My visit however was primarily to visit the Kurdish “no-fly” zone where our partner had been working over the past 8 years. A former upper-management oil company employee had come to faith in Jesus through the witness of his brother. He lived in Kirkuk and watched as the Kurds in the city were driven out and their houses bulldozed. Later, they were attacked in refugee camps using nerve gas. This new Christian, driven by new Spirit of God impetus, began providing assistance to refugees and as a result he ended up on Hussein’s “hit list”. Fleeing at night with his family, forced to leave his home and possessions he found refuge among those he had been helping, although his Christianity and unstoppable witness ultimately precipitated several assassination attempts against his life.
Partners International Canada, after understanding the vision of our partner to contribute into the potential for positive change in the region, funded three Christian schools in three major cities. These schools, although most students were Muslim background, were places that taught tolerance, acceptance of diversity, forgiveness of adversaries and exposure to the Christian message not connected with extreme rhetoric. The schools quickly became recognized as providing an exceptional level of education due in no small part to a committed staff and curriculum coming from outside Iraq. As a result, the schools quickly came under the protection of the Kurdish regional government, many of whom wanted to gain entrance for their children (at the bottom we are all the same, we want the best for our kids).
Today these schools are completely self-funding through a combination of local government support and tuition fees. More importantly, they have been a key underpinning of the positive direction of the region, moving the most oppressed population in Iraq to being the most advanced and hopeful. This is what we do best with our partners –bring sustained strategic focus on the hardest places to see transformation and Kingdom of God advances in the most challenging places. The second clear lesson is that the West rarely has the best understanding of what will make the biggest, lasting difference. Partners close to the ground and who see what we do not, are usually right.