Kamal Yunis, a research librarian at Baghdad University, oversees the quiet American Corner.
By TIM ARANGO
In a nook of the library at Baghdad University, sturdy histories of the American Revolution and the Vietnam War line up next to Alexis de Tocqueville and John Updike. Paperbacks from Tom Clancy and Michael Connelly, even Judy Blume, dangle guilty pleasures. And, as if to close the loop on Americana, baseball makes a token appearance with a copy of “Farm Team,” a novel about a boy who builds a ball field in a cow pasture.
Yet, the readers never come.
On a recent morning, this section was empty, as it is most days. As far as Kamal Yunis, a research librarian who oversees what is formally called the American Corner, can tell, no student has ever opened one of the books. The collection was assembled by the American Embassy here and is an example, writ small, of the sort of cultural programs — “soft power,” in the diplomatic nomenclature — that the State Department will emphasize after the last troops leave. Even in this arena of cultural and educational links, United States diplomats say they hope to gain leverage over Iran — whose political influence here is vast and likely to grow after the departure of the American military — by steering more students and academics toward American ideas and, hopefully, more opportunities to study in the United States.
Like nearly every American pursuit here, a battle of ideas will be difficult to win given deep suspicions toward the United States and the shattered civil society that is only slowly re-emerging. Iraq’s losses from war, tyranny and sanctions can be tabulated in physical terms, in lives and property, and in soulful shades, in identity and peace of mind. Less momentously, on the same ledger, sit the cultural losses of reading and academic striving.