I just got off the phone with a spokesman for the Iraq Foundation, Mr. Sammy Salih. Mr. Salih lived in Iraq until 1997, when he was 16 years old, at which time he came to the United States. At any rate, I am betting that Mr. Salih knows a touch more about Iraqi customs and gestures than Steve Gilliard (although I am also willing to bet Gilliard THINKS he knows more than Salih).
I interviewed Mr. Salih, and according to him, the thumb means things in other cultures, but for the most part, in Iraq, it meant nothing until it was picked up after the Gulf War. Now, he said, he believes it means ‘OK’ or ‘good.’
I know who I believe on the issue. How about you?
BTW- that is pretty much what the Defense Language Institute has stated about the “Thumbs Up” meaning:
THis gesture, expressing connotations of “I am winning,” historically is offensive to many Arabs. After the Gulf conflict, however, Middle Easterners of the Arabian Peninsula adopted this hand movement, along with the OK sign, as a symbol of cooperation towards freedom.
One word of caution- Mr. Salih did state that putting the INDEX finger and thumb together meant something akin to “F— your mother,” although he was too polite to use those terms himself.