Monday, March 10, 2008

BTW, What Do the Iraqis Want?

voting_iraqisby Olga Bonfiglio
(View Original)

You’ve got to hand it to the Quakers. They never quit. They are steadfast in their devotion to peace. And they continue to seek ways of informing Americans about the Iraq War, even when that war has become passé in the media and a largely avoided topic in the presidential debates.

Recently, in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, the Friends set up a “Speak for Peace Tour” and invited Raed Jarrar, to provide an Iraqi perspective. I met him during his five-cities tour of Michigan.

Raed is a native of Baghdad who had just completed studies in architecture when his neighborhood was bombed by the Americans in April 2003. “Surgical warfare” was supposed to target only the “bad guys” and not civilians, but Raed found his neighbors were being killed and fleeing from their homes.

His purpose in life instantly changed. He decided to document civilian injuries and deaths during the first four months of the invasion. He recruited and organized 200 volunteers to conduct a survey by going door to door in cities and villages to find out who was hurt or killed.

“We gave names and faces for the Iraqi casualties,” said Raed. Also included in the survey were notes about the way each person was killed, the place and the monthly income of the dependents.

Raed married an American and he later became a naturalized citizen. He works as a political analyst and consultant for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and has testified before Congress about conditions in Iraq. His blog, “In the Middle,” discusses U.S. foreign policy, the political scene and the media’s portrayal of Iraq and Iraqis. His commentary is blistering but hey, how would most of us feel if we lost our whole way of life?

During his visit to Kalamazoo where 150 people showed up, he was congenial, articulate and very pointed in letting us know what was happening in Iraq and what the U.S. should do.

“There is only one U.S. foreign policy for Iraq and that is one based on military interventionism,” he said. “Whether it is humanitarian aid or killing off the ‘bad guys’, the attitude remains that the United States must fix Iraq.”

Raed said that the U.S. government’s justifications for intervention in Iraq have shifted but the motivation is the same: to control the Middle East and its oil resources.

For example, in the 1990s the U.S. bombed Iraq in order to save the habitat for certain birds living in the marshes that Saddam Hussein was drying up. Then it was to save the Kurds from genocide. Then it was to save the world from weapons of mass destruction. Now it is to prevent civil war between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites.

Military intervention in Iraq was not George W. Bush’s idea alone. His father and Bill Clinton were both itching to get into Iraq. And while Americans are stuck debating whether military intervention should be multilateral or unilateral, Raed was adamant that the U.S. never had any business being in Iraq in the first place.

“Go back to your own home and work on your own problems,” he said referring to the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina, joblessness, poverty, and now the housing crisis.

Five years of war in Iraq have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.18 million Iraqis (based on the July 2006 Lancet report which reported 600,000 Iraqi deaths) and this fact goes mostly unreported.

“Americans need to realize that the violence in Iraq is the result of 90 years of illegal foreign intervention,” said Raed. “First it was the British, then it was the Americans. Now it is Al Qaeda.”

There are three main factors causing the violence in Iraq, he explained.

First, military trainers are viewed as negatively as those at the School of the Americas who train Latin American officers and soldiers on strategy and tactics, including torture.

“They are the major reason why 4.5 million Iraqis have been kicked out of their homes and over a million have been killed,” said Raed. “Violence is a tool the U.S. uses to implement its agenda.”

Secondly, counter-terrorism tactics have created more terrorism.

Prior to the 2003 invasion there was no Al Qaeda and there were no extremists blowing themselves up, said Raed.

Thirdly, the U.S. embassy, which is as big as the Vatican, does not welcome Iraqi diplomats or legislative representatives. In fact, they are harassed and humiliated whenever they attempt to visit.

“The embassy is a base for long-term political intervention,” said Raed.

The solution of what to do about Iraq stymies most Americans and, unfortunately, both Democrats and the Republicans maintain that it is imprudent to withdraw troops from Iraq but they come at it from different perspectives, said Raed.

The Right believes that the terrorists will win and that we should stay to defeat them. The Left believes that the ancient hatred between the Sunnis and Shi’ites will destroy the country so the Iraqis need to be rescued from civil war and the country should be partitioned.

Raed compared today’s Iraqi civil war to the American Civil War (1861-65). The North wanted a strong, central government and the South wanted states’ rights. In Iraq it is the same political struggle: the Sunnis want a strong central government and the Shi’ites want local control. The only difference between these civil wars is that no foreign government interfered in the American struggle.

(The U.S. has taken the side of the minority Shi’ites.)

During the 2005 Iraqi election, which the Bush administration hailed as a “watershed moment in the story of freedom” and a victory in the war on terror, the American people didn’t quite catch what was going on with all those voters’ purple fingers, said Raed.

The Iraqi people were electing Sunni legislative representatives. (They do not vote for their executive branch.) Their candidates, who won a majority, were against privatization of the oil industry and wanted the U.S. to leave the country.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi leadership turned out to be Shi’ite separatists who were supportive of the Bush administration and its intervention in Iraq. And no wonder. The prime minister was selected by the Presidency Council, which was selected by the National Assembly (whose election the Sunnis boycotted) after it replaced the Iraqi Transitional Government, which replaced the Iraqi Interim Government that had been set up by the United States.

So what should Americans think about Iraq?

“What three-quarters of the Iraqis want is a complete U.S. withdrawal,” said Raed. “No mercenaries. No permanent bases. No interference. Only complete withdrawal is the first step toward stabilizing Iraq.”

Olga Bonfiglio teaches a peacemaking class at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She is the author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq and writes on the subjects of social justice and religion. Her website is Contact her at

1 comment:

Raed Jarrar said...

Dear Rich

A revised version of the same piece was reposted on common dreams today (on the same address)

thank you for your blog!