BTW, What Do the Iraqis Want?

This is a revised version of the essay that originally appeared on 3/10/08.

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 passAf(c) in the media and a largely avoided topic in the presidential debates.

This is a revised version of the essay that originally appeared on 3/10/08.

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 passAf(c) 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 has lived in the U.S. for several years now. 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 stay in 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, one of the reasons given in the 1990s to justify bombing and sanctioning Iraq was to save the habitat for certain birds living in the marshes that Saddam Hussein was drying up. Other reasons included saving 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.

"U.S. taxpayers should think about fixing the problems here before going outside to police and rescue the world," he said referring to the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina, joblessness, poverty, and now the housing crisis. Actually, Raed put his money where his mouth is and went to New Orleans to volunteer in its reconstruction.

Five years of war in Iraq have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1 million Iraqis (based on the July 2006 Lancet report that counted 600,000 Iraqi deaths).

"Americans need to realize that the violence in Iraq is the result of 18 years of illegal foreign intervention," said Raed.

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

The so-called "right" in Washington, D.C. believes that the terrorists will win and that the U.S. should stay in Iraq to defeat them. The so-called "left" wants the troops to stay because they believe 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.

While the "hawks" are openly speaking about leaving troops indefinitely, the "doves" want to start withdrawing the troops soon. What the majority of Americans don't know is that the peaceful D.C. "doves" make three exceptions that would maintain up to 75,000 troops indefinitely in Iraq. These exceptions include training the Iraqi military forces, maintaining counter-terrorism operations and protecting the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Military trainers in Iraq 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.

"Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish governmental and non-governmental militias that are being trained and protected by the U.S. are the major reasons why 4.5 million Iraqis have been kicked out of their homes during the last five years," said Raed. "These militias are committing systematic ethnic and sectarian cleansing to create a new environment in Iraq where partitioning the country is possible."

Secondly, counter-terrorism tactics have created more terrorism. Prior to the 2003 invasion there was no Al Qaeda and no regional and international intervention in Iraq. There were no extremists blowing themselves up either, 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 U.S. has been taking the side of the minority separatists (comprised of Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, Christians, seculars) against the majority nationalists (also comprised of Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, Christians, seculars). This Iraqi-Iraqi conflict is not religious or sectarian. It is political and economic.

"A U.S. withdrawal will not unleash a pending religious civil war. It will open up a space for political reconciliation to start," said Raed.

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 Iraqis voted for a majority of nationalists to be their legislative representatives. (They do not vote for their executive branch.) Their candidates, who won a majority, were against privatization of the oil industry, against partitioning Iraq into ethno-sectarian confederations and they wanted the U.S. to leave the country.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi leadership turned out to be the five separatist parties that lost the elections and who were supportive of the Bush administration and helped plan its intervention in Iraq. And no wonder. The entire process was manipulated by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

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. After that, we can start healing the wounds of this occupation."

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