The voices of civil society must continue speaking out for human rights. Everyone must rise above the rhetorical declarations of the Bush Administration so we can continue our grassroots movement for Iraqis. We are at a critical juncture in history that requires the skills and talents of civil society for a global movement that will safeguard Iraqis and people worldwide from infringements on civil liberties, human rights violations and war crimes. We have established domestic and international laws to make these determinations.
When I connect the dots here is my conclusion: the White House has a catalog of excuses and declivitous justifications for wreaking havoc and suffering on the Iraqis. Now we the people must deal with the devastation. U.S taxpayers have already foot a war bill in excess of $300 billion and more than likely we will have to pay at least another $300 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction. It is our responsibility because we allowed our government to give itself and our military the authority to invade and occupy Iraq.
We can argue multi-partisan politics about the U.S Empire’s lack of planning for security, economic development and reconstruction before the U.S. attacked millions of Iraqis. However, it is not helping the Iraqis. Bush’s rhetoric neither changes the reality on the ground nor do his words alleviate Iraqi suffering. Since the U.S.-led invasion 1,008 days ago Iraqis still do not have stable national power services, such as clean water and electricity. Without security the rebuilding of their country’s infrastructure is, to say the least, a colossal challenge.
At this point rhetorical speeches about which stratum of the American populace are defeatists is not only shameful but a waste of time, energy and U.S. taxpayers’ dollars. What is more important: meeting the needs of Iraqis or claiming that one’s actions are right?
We the people the members of civil society – must stand with the Iraqis and do what we can to help them regain security and stability in their lives. At the societal level we have to set aside our political, religious and ethnic lines and offer our assistance. If Iraqis decide they want our help, whichever form that takes, we should be ready and willing to serve them through civic duty.
This perception is the attitude Americans must acquire if we are going to have peace in this world. The traditional, masculine military occupation of indigenous people and their lands has got to go because war and occupation perpetuates more violence. It has a track record of causing nothing but pain. We have to change our way of thinking in order to change the way we interact with the rest of people in the world. The U.S.’ obsessive focus as a superpower that uses its military forces for land-power-supremacy and “geopolitical preeminence” is not creating the political equilibrium and democracy Bush boasts in his speeches.
Some Organizations that Help Iraqis
There are organizations that have been doing inspiring work in and for Iraq such as the American Friends Service Committee, the Christian Peacemaker Teams and Voices for Creative Non-Violence (formerly Voices In the Wilderness). Their representatives have informed the American public about Iraq by mobilizing together for media coverage. They have listened to Iraqis’ tragic accounts and documented their human rights and torture, as well as provided humanitarian relief.
Last week the AFSC Chicago office commemorated the 1,000th day of the Iraq War by holding a six-hour memorial vigil for the 100,000 plus killed Iraqis since March 2003. In Federal Plaza 1,500 pairs of shoes were placed in a meditative labyrinth by the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group of relatives of those killed on 9/11. They have called for an end to the Iraq War.
Tied to dozens of the shoes on display were the bios and obituaries of Iraqis who died in the war in Iraq as told to journalists from The Guardian in the “One Hundred Lives Project.” In the snow they placed metal posts that held life-sized photos of Iraqis taken by photographer Kouross Ismaeli and journalist Lorna Tychostup. Throughout the day thousands of passers-by saw images of Iraqi faces and read their life stories, which humanized the statistics of Iraqi deaths.
Granted, the current obstacle to helping Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure is the lack of security. Unless there is social order and stability it is difficult to meet the needs of Iraqis. The Anglo occupation is the root-cause of violence in Iraq. The closest piece of legislation that addresses the funding of the U.S. occupation is the End the Iraq War Act.
End the Iraq War Act H.R. 4232
U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) proposed H.R. 4232. According to an AFSC handout the bill prohibits the use of U.S. funds to deploy U.S. Armed Forces to Iraq. It earmarks the money for reconstruction initiatives; the withdrawal of troops; a transitional security provided by other countries, including international organizations such as NATO and the United Nations; continued support for Iraqi security forces and international forces in Iraq; and other non-defense efforts.
As explained to me by an assistant from a U.S. House of Representative’s office the earliest vote for this bill is early February. It has been referred to two subcommittees: the Committee of Armed Services and the Committee on International Relations. Within each committee the bill must pass with a majority vote. Each committee has approximately 60 members.
H.R. 4232 appeals to Americans across party lines because the bill constructively addresses the end of U.S. violence in Iraq.
The Grassroots Movement for Iraqis
In the meantime, organizations such as the CPT have sent scores of delegations to Iraq. They have listened to Iraqis talk about their daily lives. Recently I heard Elce Redmond from the South Austin Coalition talk about his recent visit to Iraq where he and other CPT delegates met with several Iraqi leaders from different religious-political associations. CPT delegates watched tapes of torture and they listened to leaders’ perspectives on the grave, critical issues facing the country.
After Redmond listened to one of the leaders Redmond explained the idea of mobilizing Iraqis at the grassroots level so they can improve their communities. While the delegation visited Sadr City Redmond described the devastation of the sewerage system. From his point of view the ten worst neighborhoods in America pale in comparison to what he saw in Sadr City. He showed hundreds of pictures of many Iraqi cities. While in Iraq there were dozens of bomb explosions.
After witnessing such devastation Redmond suggested to Iraqi leaders that their communities could mobilize together and petition the National Iraqi Assistance Center for reconstruction and economic development. If Iraqi leaders decide on this collective strategy then a transnational movement will evolve to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. In the process they may restore the social order necessary for genuine, political stability.
Iraq is in chaos but if Iraqi leaders create a unified alliance based on Iraqi initiatives and their country’s cultural foundation then their interrelations may help ease political conflicts. For the sake of social peace the violence must end. A mobilized Iraqi coalition that demands reforms to meet the needs of Iraqi society will create the social cohesion needed for the contours of an effective, trusted Iraqi Government.
If Iraqi leaders across the spectrum of their country’s society focus on constructive dialogues for action they will create jobs, rebuild homes and develop the economy that will support a prosperous future. How can people make decisions about the details of their government when there is dirty water in the streets, a scarcity of clean water, sporadic electricity, and military tanks rolling down the streets?
Without security reconstruction cannot take place, hence the focus should be on mediation for conflict-resolutions also. Based on the increasing violence it seems there should be more negotiations between Iraqi leaders taking place and less war monologues coming from the U.S. There are other Arab states that can help bring these negotiations to fruition and with their diplomatic influence they can curtail the violence of both Iraqi militants and the foreign insurgency. Most likely Arabs in the region have their own ways of resolving conflicts that we, as Americans have minimal knowledge of because we do not live there.
If Iraqis want international assistance it is their decision to tell the international community how we should be of service to them. Do Iraqis want foreign military forces in their country? If so, who or what, in what capacity, where, how many, and how long? It is still unclear to me who makes these determinations. Are the Iraqis making these decisions?
Answers to these questions will come if the members of civil society within the international community engage in dialogue with Iraqis. We need continued communication whether via delegations to Iraq or through online forums so that Iraqis’ can tell the international community their needs and concerns.
Iraq belongs to Iraqis. In the midst of occupation no government leader can declare the country he represents freed Iraq because Iraqis do not live in liberation. Saddam is no longer in power but now mayhem controls Iraq. The U.S. needs to plan how to withdrawal their military presence because it contributes to the escalating violence. Iraqis need their liberty and autonomy to create their own destiny.
Iraq, like a desert phoenix will rise from the calamitous ashes of war and occupation anew.
SONIA NETTNIN writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.