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BTW, What Do the Iraqis Want?

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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 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.

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Olga Bonfiglio is a Huffington Post contributor and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several magazines and newspapers on the subjects of food, social justice and religion. She (more...)
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