Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, November 17, 2018

Speaker tells Iraq’s story

Iraq is more than violence and destruction, and is instead a nation with rich history, said the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States.

Ambassador Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie spoke to students at AU about Western views of Iraq, Iraq’s history and what the future of the country might look like in the Battelle-Tompkins Atrium, Nov. 9.

In 2006, Sumaida’ie became the first Iraqi ambassador to the United States in 16 years.

Sumaida’ie spent time discussing the common misconceptions about Iraq.

“You mention Iraq to anyone and the picture conjured is one of violence, trouble and destruction,” he said. “But Iraq is not about that; it is much more rich and civilized in the broadest sense of the term.”

It is wrong to blame people with misconceptions because they have often only seen Iraq through the military lens, Sumaida’ie said. Iraq has been in trouble, and that is not a misconception, but it should not be the only view and Iraq is growing out of its difficulties, he said.

Iraq has been called the “cradle of civilization” and has always had a very elaborate structure of social behavior, Sumaida’ie said. The country’s long and detailed history is unrivaled by many other countries, he said. “Some people say in America, 100 years is a long time and in Europe, 100 miles is a long way but in Iraq neither is true,” he said.

Sumaida’ie told the story of a statue of a Sumerian king he has in his office to explain politics in Iraq. There are inscriptions on the front and back of the statue. On the front are positive inscriptions and words to the gods and on the back are warnings and dire messages. When the statue stood in a temple, people would only be able to see the back of the statue. He related it to politics, explaining that politicians often speak one way to some people and another way to others. Some people are given the positive encouraging words while others are simply warned and berated.

“The total picture [of Iraq] is of a very sophisticated and complex society layered with thoughts and ideas,” he said.

Sumaida’ie said that despite having gone through very difficult times. Iraq is not the subtotal of its history but merely an aberration.

Iraqis have a vast knowledge of their country’s history, and their pride in Iraq is very strong.

“Ask any Iraqi, and you will find that he or she is the bearer of this torch which has been alight for thousands and thousands of years,” he said.

Even though hard times have arisen for Iraq, they have been overcome, Sumaida’ie said. Through that, Iraq has the ability to be open to the world and serve as a pioneer in terms of human thought and culture, he said.

Saddam Hussein had been a main contributor in the turmoil of the country, Sumaida’ie said.

“During Saddam, everything regressed,” he said.

However, The future of Iraq is looking bright, according to Sumaida’ie.

“I’m an optimistic person,” he said. “We are going through a really tough time; we are overburdened by problems created by Saddam, but despite that there is a resiliency in Iraq that is unmatched. I see Iraq in five years way ahead of where it is now. Far on the way to recovery and reconstruction.”

In order to achieve that goal, several factors are needed, including banishing the extremists and continuing to receive help from friends, Sumaida’ie said.

“America must not abandon us now,” he said. “Americans are helping us recover.”

While some Iraqis view Americans with mixed feelings, it is only because their views of the United States have been learned the same way Americans have learned of Iraq. They, too, have seen the United States through the military scope, and thus many shape their opinions from that aspect.

In an exclusive interview with The Eagle after the event, Sumaida’ie discussed the recent approved vote in Iraq and the similarities between college students in the United States and Iraq.

Sumaida’ie wants college students from the U.S. to learn about Iraq and to understand how much historical information about Iraq is clouded because of the conflict.

“Iraq is a multi-faced society,” he said. “It should not be thought of in unidimensional terms. It is a very rich country in every sense.”

In order to help U.S. students bridge the gap with students in Iraq, Sumaida’ie said that “the common ground can be summed up in one word: curiosity.”

In terms of the recent approval for a national vote, Sumaida’ie commented that the road is now paved for the elections to take place in peace and harmony.

“This means a lot for Iraq and for the U.S.” he said.

According to Sumaida’ie, it means that for Iraqis there is no longer a worry about breaching the constitution and for Americans, there is now a greater chance for withdrawal of troops taking place on time.

You can reach this writer at

Never miss a story.

Get our weekly newsletter in your inbox.