Format: video with audio
Running time: approx. 1 hr 11 min.
Summary: Do you really know what is going on in Iraq? Raed Jarrar deconstructs many of the myths surrounding the occupation. Bunny says, "If you watch this video, an hour from now all the news you read in the newspapers or see on TV will suddenly have a very different meaning for you."
Pinky: It's now May 2008, five years since the invasion of Iraq, and as you know, the occupation continues. And of course there continues to be a lot of discussion and arguments here in the U.S. about whether or not the war is a success or failure, or what the 'next steps' should or shouldn't be. Here are the results of some recent polls of Americans regarding their take on the situation in Iraq.
The question is: Was it a mistake to invade Iraq? We can see that when the invasion started in March 2003, less than 25% of Americans thought the invasion was a mistake. Five years later, about 60% think the invasion was a bad idea.
But, here's another poll - even though 60% of Americans think we should have never invaded Iraq, curiously enough 67% of Americans still believe that Iraqis will somehow benefit from us invading and occupying their country.
To be honest, when I first looked at these numbers, I thought "Okay, now it's official. Americans are crazy". I mean, think about it - over a million Iraqis dead, millions displaced, their country destroyed or carved up and sold off to foreign corporations - how could this possibly be a good thing for Iraqis?
But, after thinking about it a little more, I realized that this actually shouldn't be so surprising, especially when you consider where the overwhelming majority of Americans get their information from: the mainstream media. And where does the mainstream media get its information from? Well, they get it from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon. It's not as if these sources are... um... disinterested parties.
Here's another interesting poll.
This one shows how long Americans think U.S. troops will stay in Iraq. Here we have a range of opinions, with 84% of people thinking that we'll continue to occupy Iraq from anywhere between two to ten years. As the Gallup Summary for this poll states:
"One reason most Americans object to maintaining troop levels indefinitely may be that, to many, it is unclear the troops are achieving their goals."
This is a very important statement to think about. Does this mean that Americans think it's okay to destroy and occupy someone else's country, as long as it's allowing us to achieve our goals? Because if that's what it means, then it must also mean that Americans don't really understand or respect the concept of sovereignty. Wait, let me rephrase that - I think Americans do think sovereignty is important, but only if it's sovereignty for us. For other people though, probably sovereignty is not so important.
To me this is a problem - we can't say we believe in freedom and democracy but at the same time invade and occupy anybody we want. The two positions are not compatible.
My overall conclusions after looking at these polls are: 1) Americans are very confused about what's going on in Iraq. Number 2, many of the ideas Americans have about the situation in Iraq are based on misinformation or spin. This is not a good way to try to figure out how to exist in the world.
I think many of you who want to understand what's really going on in Iraq will find the following talk by Raed Jarrar to be extremely clarifying. Raed Jarrar is a Middle East political consultant to AFSC - the American Friends Service Committee. In this talk, Mr. Jarrar provides a crucial perspective - an Iraqi perspective - that continues to be marginalized and excluded from public debate. He addresses the following:
• dissects and debunks several myths about the occupation
• explains why the Sunni vs. Shiite vs. Kurd model of conflict is problematic
• gives concrete examples of how the U.S. is stifling democracy in Iraq
• makes a compelling argument for why we must immediately and completely withdraw from Iraq.
I really enjoyed this talk because it's one of the clearest, easiest to understand discussions about who is distributing misinformation and why. If you listen to this talk, an hour from now you will have a much better understanding of what is really going on in Iraq.
Special thanks to the American Friends Service Committee for organizing
this talk, and also to Daisy for recording the event with his
[ video: Raed Jarrar speaking at University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, May 23, 2008. ]
Raed Jarrar: Thank you very much everyone.
One of the things that shocked me the most when I moved to the U.S. in 2005 is the way the U.S. media and U.S. politicians speak about Iraq or Iraqis or Arabs or Muslims. Many people were telling me, "Maybe you will have cultural shock when you move to the United States from the Middle East". But I actually had a media shock, I guess. Not a cultural shock.
The way that the mainstream media in the U.S. and the mainstream politicians in the U.S. speak about Iraq - about Iraq's history, Iraq's present, and Iraq's future - makes me feel like it's a different country than the one that I was born in. Different history, different politics, different reasons for conflict now, and different ways out of that conflict. So what I've been talking more about lately is these two different narratives of Iraq. Not just narratives of the war and the occupation, but narratives of Iraq and Iraqis. The dominant narrative in the United States - that I'm sure many of us in this room are familiar with - the perception that the war or the violence in Iraq now is caused by internal sectarian or religious differences, ancient hatreds that are putting Iraqis against each other... [that] narrative tells us every day how the U.S. occupation is very important for Iraq because any withdrawal will cause a disaster. We never hear the dominant narrative from the Iraqi side. I will try to give it some time today.
Iraqis in general, including myself, don't really think that what's happening now can be described as a war. It's more an occupation. Moreover, Iraqis don't think that the involvement, the U.S. adventure in Iraq, started five years ago. They think that it started 18 years ago. Because people like myself who paid the price of over a decade of sanctions and bombings and intervention of the U.S. in Iraq, we realize that Baghdad did not fall in three weeks in 2003. Baghdad fell in 13 years. Baghdad was falling before our eyes. We were watching our city falling and dying every day. We were watching our schools falling apart. We were watching our health system falling apart. Everything was falling apart very, very slowly. And many people don't think that these phases were disconnected. They don't think that war happened in 1991, and then it was followed by sanctions, then it was followed by a "crazy" administration that decided to invade Iraq. These things were linked, actually. The sanctions were preparations for an invasion. I mean, maybe they were expecting that the Iraqi government might implode by itself and they won't need to invade, but that's not a part of the plan, you know? That would have been a good bonus I guess.
So while I speak today I will try to debunk the myths that we hear now in the mainstream media and from politicians, to justify the current U.S. foreign policy in Iraq. We should have no delusions that debunking the myths will change the policy. These are two different things. One thing is the announced justifications for the existing policy. These are the things that we hear all the time, things that shifted from protecting Iraq's neighbors from Iraq in the early 1990s, to protecting Iraqis from their own government, to protecting Kurds from Arabs, to putting no fly zones, to at one moment actually, one of the reasons given by the U.S. government to continue its intervention in Iraq was to protect the birds in the marshes! They were saying, "If we stopped the sanctions, the evil Iraqi government will drain the marshes. These little beautiful birds will die!" This was one of the justifications.
Of course after that all of us know how the issue was linked to 9/11, and they said that Iraq was linked to Al-Qaida, and it had a lot to do with 9/11. And after that the justification turned into protecting the world in a Superman mission, protecting the universe from the weapons of mass destruction of Iraq. That was so urgent because "They can destroy the world in 30 minutes; we have to go there and destroy the Iraqi government." So all of these things shifted, you know? Shifted over the years. But, the foreign policy did not shift. The foreign policy stayed more or less the same. Whether it was the first Bush, or the second Bush, or Clinton between them, bombs continued to fall on our neighborhoods, sanctions continued to kill Iraqi children and people and destroy Iraq.
Now, after the occupation, of course we went through new phases of justifications to make sure that the U.S. involvement in Iraq will continue to be the same, and these justifications started by saying "We are there to protect the Shiites from the Sunnis." This is what they said. They said the former Iraqi government was a Sunni-led government that was oppressing Shiites. We had to be there to protect the Shiites from the Sunnis. Now we are actually protecting the Sunnis from the Shiites and preventing a civil war from erupting. So I will address these points about the sectarian conflict. But I personally don't have delusions that if I, you know, addressed all of the justifications to bomb Iraq, and all of the systematic demonization of Muslims and Arabs, that this will change the policy. It's not like if we went around the U.S. government and U.S. public and convinced them one by one that Muslims are not crazy terrorists who like to blow themselves up because their DNA tells them so, that they like to oppress their women, it's not like if we convinced them that these things are wrong, the U.S. government will say "Oh, let's pull out from Iraq then." Right? Because these things don't work this way. These are not the bases for the foreign policy.
Where we stand now, there are two major justifications for continuing the same interventionist foreign policy in Iraq. The more right-wing crowd, the Republican Party and the Republican Party's constituency, are told that this occupation of Iraq is very important for our security. They say "If we pulled out the troops from Iraq, the terrorists will come fight us here. Let's fight them over there because otherwise they will come fight us over our own soil." So usually this is the justification. Usually the theme is security interventionism - how to stay in Iraq for "our security". This is the more conservative rationalization for the war. Now the more left-wing constituency, the Democratic Party constituency and the more liberal constituency, is told a different justification. Usually it's told, "We have to stay indefinitely in Iraq, not because we are evil imperialists who want to control Iraq's oil, but because we love them. We have to stay in Iraq because we have to protect them from each other. We have to protect them from themselves. And we are not going to have any type of brutal occupation. It will be a nice occupation. And you have to continue it in that way." And unfortunately this actually sells, not because people are stupid, but because people feel responsible. There is a feeling of moral responsibility to fix the crimes and mistakes that happened in Iraq. And then there is the systematic way to manipulate this feeling of moral responsibility and make people feel as if fixing the crimes and the destruction that happened because of a military occupation can happen through prolonging the military occupation for another couple of years. "No, no, no. Now we will actually build bridges for you. Now it will actually be nice, we will be doing good things."
In fact, this is where we stand now regarding the leadership of the two ruling parties in D.C., and the presidential candidates of both, or at least the three major presidential candidates of both parties - Obama and Clinton and McCain. The three of them are against complete withdrawal from Iraq. The three of them want to keep troops indefinitely in Iraq for three reasons: protecting the embassy, training Iraqi forces, and counter-terrorism missions. And the three of them are against ending the mercenary contracts, the private contractor work in Iraq. Where we stand now, there is no promises for shifting the U.S. foreign policy in Iraq. It's actually more disturbing to know that the three candidate's outline for a strategy in Iraq is identical, is to know that this is actually the Bush administration's plan.
I mean I know that the mainstream media tries to build this case of collective amnesia, but there was actually a big celebration in Iraq in 2004, and they called it the "handing over of authority to Iraqis". They had firecrackers and celebrations, and Paul Bremmer left Iraq, and they said "Now, Iraq belongs to the Iraqis." And the U.S. troops will withdraw from the cities to some bases outside the cities, and they will just do three small things. They'll protect the embassy, and train the Iraqi forces, and do some limited counter-terrorism attacks. And these three little things, you don't even need to read the fine print about how many troops they will leave, but of course the military experts, including some Pentagon military experts, they think that the number of troops needed for these three missions is 75,000.
So what the U.S. public is being told, especially by the Democratic presidential candidates is that we will start withdrawing the U.S. troops from Iraq within two weeks of us becoming president, but they don't really speak about when they end withdrawing the troops. And they say in the fine print that they are keeping them there indefinitely and supporting these ideas.
Now this issue of sectarian tension in Iraq is important to deconstruct because it's being used heavily now to justify a long term presence in Iraq. They are saying any withdrawal will cause the sky to fall, and the Sunnis and the Shiites will eat each other in the streets. So we can't withdraw our troops from Iraq. We have to stay there to protect them. So that's why I will maybe talk about this for the next ten minutes.
Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq never had a civil war in their history. Now this is not something that we would hear from the mainstream media. Because when we listen to the mainstream media, it seems like Sunnis and Shiites have been killing each other for 1,400 years, right? They're savage and crazy and terrorists and whatever. But they were not actually. There are no precedents for a Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq since what I call the contemporary history of the nation of Iraq, which is the history that goes back 1,300 years.
Now, before I start speaking about the details of the conflict that started in 2003, just to make the point that there was no conflict prior to 2003, that's important to make because from my personal experience, not just because I'm half Sunni and half Shiite, but because I lived in Iraq. I was born there and I lived through, you know, different phases of life - school, or university, or work. And I've never heard, in my life, that someone was discriminated against or asked whether he or she was Sunni or Shiite. Now, there were other systems of oppression that discriminate [against], you know, some Iraqis. For example, Iraqis who come from an Iranian descent were discriminated against. Or a Turkish descent. You know, Iraqis who came from a non-Arab descent had that on their ID card, and they were discriminated against - you can't get married to them, there was a system of discrimination. But there is no such a thing as a discrimination against Iraqis based on their sect.
Now, more than my personal testimony actually I found a very good piece of information to prove this issue. Because, as you remember, we were told repeatedly at one politically convenient moment that the former Iraqi government, the Bathist government, was a Sunni-led regime. They said Sunnis used to rule that government. And I found after a while of researching that, you know the 55 card deck that was printed by the Pentagon and the State Department? It had the 55 most wanted Iraqi political leaders, including Saddam and his sons - you know what I'm talking about right? [audience acknowledges] Now these 55 pictures, or cards, were really representative of the 55 top influential political leaders in Iraq. The U.S. government said, "Once we capture or kill these 55, the political regime will be over." And they did capture or kill most of them, and the political regime was over. Now the point of information that they haven't told us is that out of the 55, 36 were Shiites. And the two vice presidents were actually a Kurd who's a Shiite, and a Christian. So if it was really a Sunni led regime, why would they let 60% or 70% of their leadership to be Shiites?
Now, this is not to say that the former Iraqi government was nice and inclusive or democratically representative or anything. But to say it was a sectarian based organization? It was secular. it was a secular dictatorship. It was blind to people's religion or sect or whatever. And these are important things. These are two different things. To say "political secular dictatorship" is one thing, and "ethnic or sectarian or racial dictatorship" is something else, right? I mean there are other organizations or governments who are racist or sectarian or whatever. For example the KKK is a racist organization; it is race-based. I'm sure that the KKK wouldn't put 60% of their leadership to be African Americans, right? [audience laughter] Yeah, but I mean in the case of Iraq, if we wanted to prove the opposite of what I would be saying, we'd have to have 60% of the leadership to be from the political resistance, you know? Like the opposition of Saddam. That would be really crazy, you know? But to have them be Shiites, that wasn't crazy. It was very normal.
Now moving on to what happened now, the first precedent of cutting Iraq into sectarian based representation was when Paul Bremmer created the government council in 2003 and called upon Iraqis to be represented based on their sectarian backgrounds. He said, "You are selected to be a part of this governing council not because you're smart, or handsome, or capable, but because you're a Sunni. And you, because you are a Shiite. And you because you are a Kurd. And you are because you are Christian." So this is the first time in Iraq's history that these things happened. Now, one can argue, so what? All of the other sectarian and religious conflicts around the world start that way, right? So what? All of these imperialist powers go to countries, cut them apart, and then after that, the sectarian war starts. I mean, even if you've made your point that these things didn't exist before 2003, hard luck. Now they do exist, you know?
And that's what's more important, to actually deconstruct now and expose, is that until today, until 2008, the conflict in Iraq is not a sectarian conflict. It's not a religious conflict. It's a political and economic conflict that is putting some Sunnis and Shiites against other Sunnis and Shiites because of political and economic reasons. Now what does that mean? It means that there are two different conflicts, two different types of conflicts that we are talking about here. One based on ancient hatred and people's beliefs, and these things happen around the world. Another conflict that is based on people's politics and economic agendas, and that happens around the world as well. We can't mix between them. If an Iraqi news station or media analyst came to the U.S. and said the American Civil War was a religious civil war between the Catholics and the Protestants, people will say "You're crazy! You don't know what you're talking about!" Right? If someone said it was a war between the whites and the blacks...? People say, "These are not different opinions that we disagree with; these are wrong facts!" So to say that the Iraqi conflict is a religious-based conflict, it's not an 'opinion' that I disagree with - it's a wrong fact.
When the U.S. invaded and brought back to Iraq some of the partners and allies of the Bush administration, it brought back five major factions. One of them is Sunni, two are Shiites, and two are Kurds. They came back, mostly on American tanks with the U.S. - some of them from Iran, some of them from Europe, some of them from the U.S. Now these five factions are the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds who are allied with the U.S. There are other Sunnis, and other Shiites, and other Kurds, and seculars, and Christians, who are against the U.S. occupation, and they were in Iraq before the invasion. Now, the crack, the fault line, between these Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds and other Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds, is obviously not a sectarian or religious one.
Let's just to continue that example about the American Civil War. The same way that there were some Americans, roughly, for a one-united country and one central government - 'nationalist'-types in the American Civil War - there are now some Iraqis, Sunnis and Shiites and others, who are nationalists who are for keeping Iraq as one united country without partitioning, with one central government and no foreign intervention. The same way that there were other Americans who wanted to secede or partition the country (the South or whatever), there are now other Iraqis who are Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds, who want to partition Iraq and keep the U.S. involvement and other types of foreign intervention. Now, in the U.S. case of course the Union won to keep the country united. In the Iraqi case, the U.S. has allied itself to separatists, people who want to partition Iraq. I think in the Iraqi case actually, they don't represent the majority of Iraqis. There are many indicators to show that the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds who want to partition the country into a Kurdistan and Sunnistan and the Shiastan are a minority. Different polls that were conducted during the last years show that Iraqis who are for a central government and against partitioning are 75% or more of the entire population, whether they were Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites, Muslims, Christians, or other. And more than 3/4 of the population are for ending foreign intervention, ending the U.S. occupation. And more than 3/4 of the population are against privatizing Iraq's oil and natural resources.
Now these - the big chunk of the Iraqi people who are against privatization of oil and gas, against intervention and occupation, and against partitioning - are the ones who won the elections. I mean, you actually expect that to happen, right? When the elections happened in 2005 - and all us saw the purple fingers of those elections - that election actually created the Iraqi Parliament, which is the only elected entity in the Iraqi government. The Iraqi Parliament is led by a majority of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Christians, and seculars who are nationalists, who are against the occupation, against partitioning, and against privatizing Iraq's oil. Now, after the elections happened, of course the U.S. couldn't, wouldn't let that happen, right? They wouldn't let the Iraqi elected parliament create an anti-occupation executive branch. That doesn't really follow the plan, right? Because usually U.S.-supported democratic experiences are conditional. So if Palestinians voted for Hamas, now that's bad democracy! If Lebanese voted for Hezbollah, that sucks, you know? If Iraqis voted for an anti-occupation parliament, that's a problem that can be dealt with. But not through, you know, the Iraqi Constitution, or Iraqi laws, but through playing dirty games. Now, we're talking about a country under occupation here. We are talking about a country that's being destroyed. One million Iraqis were killed in the last five years alone, and five million lost their homes. But Iraqis still managed to cultivate this culture of non-violent resistance and push through the occupation project. So, despite the fact that the Constitution was written, you know, by the U.N. and Americans, despite the fact that the elections were unfair and, despite all of the unfairness - and despite the fact that I don't personally believe in having elections under occupation - what happened is that Iraqis managed to create a parliament that is anti-occupation. It's amazing, right?
Now, in a parliamentary system like Iraq, the Parliament is supposed to nominate people to become the Prime Minister and the President. It's not like in the U.S., for example, which is not a parliamentary system [in which] people vote for both (or at least they're supposed to vote for both) - the legislative branch and the executive branch. So people in the U.S. vote for the president and they vote for congress and senate. In Iraq people just vote for the parliament. So where we stand now, just to show you how the U.S. is involved in Iraq, and how the dirty games were played, the twelve political parties that are controlling the majority of the parliament - the Sunnis, Shiites, and seculars, and Kurds and Christians who control the legislative branch completely with a majority - are excluded from the executive branch. Zero representation.
The five parties that came on the U.S. tanks and are supported by the U.S. are exclusively running the executive branch. Some people ask me, "But how can that happen? I mean how can you end up having the five parties that lost the elections rule the executive branch exclusively?" And I say well, when you have 150,000 foreign troops and 150,000 foreign mercenaries in the country, wonders can happen. Like that one. And that's a U.S.-made wonder, that parties that represent a minority of a parliamentarian system end up running the executive branch exclusively. There is no other precedent, that I know of, in any other country in the world. I mean, it doesn't make sense that this would happen, right?
So where we stand now, the five parties in power are the ones who we hear their voices, and they reaffirm the U.S. dominant narrative. They are the native informants, the "native voices". So, when [President] Bush wants to say "We have to stay in Iraq because Iraqis actually love us so much, and they want us to be there. And let's prove this to us - we'll bring you a Sunni and a Shiite and a Kurd to say this." They ship their Sunnis, and Shiites, and Kurds to D.C. and they have a press conference and they say "We are so thankful for that liberation. It was so nice of you, and please stay for another decade." And then they ship them back to Baghdad, and that's it. This is their mission right?
Now, the media never actually questions this, not because the media is stupid or lazy, but because the media is a part of this system. It's a part of the establishment, you know, the big mainstream machine. I don't think the media is complicit or stupid. I mean, if you are complicit or stupid there comes a time after 10 years of lying that you question yourself, you know? If it's a stupid media, they should say, "Wait a second, last year you said that you were protecting the Sunnis from the Shiites. How come now we are doing the opposite?" But they don't do that, they don't question themselves. I'm not speaking about a conspiracy. I'm not speaking about a process of contact between the government and the media. I'm speaking about the product. Like how the product actually is very convenient to the U.S. government. The media never questions or criticizes what the U.S. government wants to do around the world.
So now, to deal with this problem, this thing is still very inconvenient for the Bush administration - the fact that the Iraqi executive branch is friendly to the U.S. program in Iraq, but the Iraqi legislative branch is not. So this is very still problematic. Just to give you an example of how problematic it is: The U.S. government - State Department - hired a contractor called BearingPoint. BearingPoint is a contractor based in Washington, D.C. And they hired them and they gave them around one quarter of a billion dollars on this contract to do some "paperwork" in Iraq. Now I have a copy of the contract. Someone's got the copy through a FOIA, Freedom of Information Act, and it shows the details. Now, one major aspect of the 240 million dollars that are being spent of U.S. tax payers' money is to privatize Iraq. It's actually, the name of the project - I'm not making this up - it's called the Mass Privatization of Iraq. It's not very, like, dramatic right?
Now, the Mass Privatization of Iraq is a three or four year-long contract and it includes re-writing a number of laws, like the oil law. So, they wrote the oil law, in English, I have a copy of the English version of the law. It was sent to Iraq, translated, rubber stamped by the five parties allied with the Bush administration, and sent to the Parliament. This all happened, you know, in a few weeks. There was no real resistance, of course, from the Bush administration's employees. So it was sent to the Parliament, and the Parliament has been resisting the law for the last year and half, the law hasn't passed. So you see the dynamic - you see that it's not a racial, or sectarian, or religious dynamic. It's the Sunnis, and Shiites, and Kurds who passed it, passed it because they want to partition the country and, you know, give a tip for the U.S. And the other ones who are against it, they are against it because they are against partitioning the country. They are against giving 75% of their national wealth to Dick Cheney. [inaudible]
That dynamic repeats itself all the time. The recent events, for example, in Basra in the south, and Sadr City in Baghdad, and Mosul in the north, showed very clearly how some Shiite militias attacked other Shiite militias. Some Shiites attack other Shiites, some Sunnis attack other Sunnis, some Kurds attack, you know, other... How this was working and how the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds in the government were united in the attack, and the other Sunnis and Shiites outside the government were united against the attack. And these things are very important to see because the U.S. narrative, the dominant narrative in the U.S., collapses in front of these events. It can't really explain why would a Shiite party that is running the executive branch - the Prime Minister al-Maliki, or Hakim from the Supreme Council - why would these parties attack another Shiite party that is participating in the government, Muqtada al-Sadr's party? Why would it happen that way? Because according to the dominant narrative here, the war should be happening either between the Sunnis and the Shiites, or between the government and the insurgents, right? There are these things right?
Now, I actually feel the same way like when people say "the Sunnis", or "the Shiites". I don't know what that means, you know? Who do we mean when we say "The Sunnis"? Are they Al-Qaida, or the Vice President who's a separatist, or the Islamic Army who are nationalists? "The Shiites" - are they al-Sadr or al-Maliki, you know? I mean, saying "the Sunnis" and "the Shiites" actually is very equivalent to saying, "What do you think 'the whites' in America think about abortion?" I don't know - I mean like, it doesn't mean anything! Like, the same when people say "Do you think the Sunnis hate the Shiites?" I say I don't know, like, which Sunnis and which Shiites are you talking about? If you're talking about my mom and dad, I have an opinion on that.
Now, to end my note - because I just want to make more time actually - when we see the facts on the ground, we'll understand that the U.S. occupation is aggravating a political and economic conflict, and a complete U.S. withdrawal would actually be a first step towards ending violence. This is exactly the opposite of what the U.S. has been telling us. The U.S. government has been telling us that we are there because we are a peace-keeping mission. We are protecting Iraqis from each other, and any withdrawal from there will intensify violence, right? All facts on the ground indicate that the Iraqi narrative of what's happening is actually closer to reality. And it's farther from political agendas that people just want to say something for propaganda reasons, you know? So, the majority of Iraqis think that there are thousands of steps that must be taken to end violence in Iraq. I think it might take up to decades to fix what the U.S. involvement has destroyed in the last 18 years. But the first step is not to fly to Iraq and, you know, help put the Sunnis and the Shiites to talk to each other. The first step is not to send NGOs to Baghdad to identify how to give them humanitarian aid. The first step is to end the occupation completely without leaving any permanent bases. [applause]
And after that, we can talk about reconstruction and reconciliation. We can talk about these things. There are so many other things to be done after that. [But] where we stand now, none of the presidential candidates are promising to end the U.S. presence in Iraq, end the occupation completely. And the three reasons given by the presidential candidates as "good presidents", you know, like the "good occupation" - the protect the embassy/train the good Iraqis/do some counter-terrorism attacks - these are very destructive reasons.
Protecting the U.S. embassy, the biggest embassy in the history of humanity. There was never an embassy this big in the world, and it's the biggest embassy in history. It's bigger than the Vatican. And it's disconnected from the infrastructure of Iraq - it has its own oil and water and sewage facilities. That's not an embassy that is meant to "build bridges" with Iraqis! You know, just to give you an example about how that embassy functions, the American Friends Service Committee, my organization, is inviting five Iraqi parliamentarians to the United States to speak about this dynamic - you know, we're bringing two pro-occupation, three anti-occupation - to speak about this dynamic. We are actually covering their expenses. And Congressman Delahunt (D-Mass.), who's the chairman of one of the subcommittees in foreign relations in Congress, is inviting them.
One of the parliamentarians called me, and he says "I'm standing in front of the U.S. consulate in Baghdad. I have my Green Zone pass, my parliament ID, my Iraqi diplomatic passport, and my official Congressional invitation in my hand, and I have the visa application. I just want to drop it inside the building, and I was told that Iraqis are barred from the U.S. embassy and consulate unless they have an American citizen to escort them." Now, I thought of, you know, some funny escort jokes to tell, [audience laughter] but I still felt really really angry about the demand. I mean, imagine how humiliating! We're not speaking about a meeting between a Congressman and the Ambassador to tell them about, you know, their vision of ending the occupation. They want to drop the paper for god's sake! They're not letting them inside the building! You have to go get a U.S. solider or anyone to come with you inside the building. So this embassy is not an embassy for diplomatic relationships. The real use of it is a permanent base for political intervention, a compound meant to run Iraq for the Iraqis, instead of letting Iraqis run Iraq for themselves. If it was a really small embassy, as we say in Arabic, [Arabic phrase] - "you are more than welcome". But if it's a huge compound to run the country, this is not a good thing...
The second point is training Iraqi forces, and this is very destructive. The U.S. role in training the Iraqi sectarian forces is very similar to the U.S. role at the School of the Americas, where they train assassins to kill their own people and destroy their own governments. The U.S. has been training the militias linked to the five parties in the executive branch, the Sunnis who are linked to them, the Shiites who are linked to them, and the Kurds who are linked to them. And these militias that are trained and backed by the United States have been committing gross human rights violations in the last five years. They've been committing one of the biggest sectarian and ethnic cleansing campaigns in the history of the region since 1948, after the catastrophe at Al-Nakba, during the creation of Israel and the expulsion of millions of Palestinians. It's a huge tragedy that the U.S. continues to train these Iraqi sectarian forces that are killing Iraqis, and counting this as "good". You know, these are the "good guys that are killing the bad guys", you know?
And the third and last point of course is counter-terrorism attacks, which is the reason that the Bush administration used to justify the attack on Iraq, and [is using] to justify staying there. And all Iraqis know that on the one hand, Iraq never had terrorists before 2003. Zero presence of terrorist organizations like Al-Qaida or others. And on the other hand, we're not theorizing about this any more. We're not in 2003 and saying "Oh, maybe the U.S. will be good in fighting terrorism." We are 2008 now. It's been five years, and the U.S. has failed miserably in fighting terrorism at the same time that Iraqis have succeeded for decades to keep any foreigners from interfering in their country.
[response to audience question] The U.S. executive branch has historically created loopholes in the Constitution to bypass the Legislative branch. You know, to make things easier for the government to do things without having to go the mess of going through 500 legislators. Maybe one of them will say something wrong (or something right). So, one of the loopholes that has been used historically is something called an Executive Agreement. And this agreement is in some way "superior" so it doesn't need ratification by the U.S. Senate (according to the U.S. Constitution, any international agreement or treaty must be ratified by a 2/3 majority of the U.S. Senate). So what the U.S. government has been doing over and over is that they sign these side agreements and they call them Executive Agreements, and they don't need ratification from the Senate. So many, or in fact most, of the military bases agreements that were signed with other places around the world were signed as Executive Agreements. And they give it this nice-y, comfortable name - SOFA, the Status of Forces Agreement. So based on these SOFAs, they say we can go around the world signing agreements to leave permanent bases in other nations without the need to make a fuss about this, we don't need to go take it through the Congress. Now they're trying to do the same with Iraq.
The U.S. government is planning to sign a permanent bases agreement with Iraq in the next few months and they don't want to submit it to the U.S. Congress for ratification. Now, I don't really think Congress would stand in the way of that. It's not like the Congress is against the war or something. I mean, we saw that the Congress just passed the biggest supplemental in world history a couple of days ago - 160 billion dollars in war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan alone. But the thing is that it would become a bigger deal, and the public will talk about it, and people will talk about it, and I'm sure there will be some inconvenient things. So they want to bypass that. Now, the Iraqi government has been actually learning from the Bush administration these tricks on how to bypass the Iraqi legislative branch, but [for them there is] a bigger reason, it's not just inconvenient, you know? The Iraqi Parliament will actually stop it. The same way that the Iraqi Parliament has stopped the oil law, and partitioning issues, and others. So, the Iraqi Executive Branch, led by the five parties allied by the Bush administration, they realized that any attempt to pass a permanent bases agreement within the Iraqi Parliament will not pass, and that's why they are trying to bypass them. So they are playing other tricks as well.
One of the major tricks that I've been researching and writing on in the last few weeks is that I found a number of precedents for the U.S. that the Iraqi Executive Branch has been signing international treaties in the last few years, and then putting a little exception in the treaties that says, "This treaty is considered valid from the date of signature and it will be submitted to the Parliament later, with no timeline." So this means that they can sign a long-term permanent bases agreement with the U.S. and consider it valid from the time of signature. They'll say, "Yeah, we're not breaking the Constitution. We'll actually submit it to the Parliament... 10 years from now." You know? No one can stop them. In fact I found six precedents of them doing this. Four of it is with the U.S. The U.S. government has signed four treaties with the Iraqi Transitional Government in 2005. Just see the level of corruption from both sides.
On July 11 of 2005, the U.S. government sends the former assistant of Condoleezza Rice, the current head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, or whatever his name is - they send him to Amman, and they get the Iraqi Minister of Finance to go to Amman, and they sign four treaties in that day. Now, the Iraqi Minister of Finance was officially announced Iraqi Minister of Finance three weeks before that. Three weeks. So in three weeks, the Iraqi government, from their basements in the Green Zone, hiding, they managed to give authority to one Minister to sign an international treaty, discuss it, write it on paper, negotiate it, and then sign it. In three weeks. It's amazing. They are so efficient.
Now this minister who signed the treaty is actually the cousin of the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi - you know, the former CIA, former Bathist corrupt leader. The other side of the family of this minister, he is the nephew of Ahmad al-Chalabi, and yes, that Ahmad al-Chalabi. So he signs four treaties - trade, investment, agriculture, [inaudible] - sells Iraq to the U.S. and then he resigns after less than a year of that, and now he lives in Britain in a nice house, and he has a company, and stuff. Now these four treaties were signed with that little statement that says "This treaty is considered active from the date of signature", and they've been working on them for the last three years. And [inaudible] these treaties of course include parts regarding privatizing Iraq's agricultural sector, and the economic sector, and the trade sector. It gives U.S. investors authorities and privileges that are not given to Iraqis. U.S. investors can do anything in Iraq - tax free, customs free. They have the authority to go inside and outside the country without going through the Iraqi government. They can just fly in and out with their security, with their money. So it's amazing, you know, the level of corruption is amazing.
[response to audience question] You know, I'm so involved in what's happening in Iraq, I get lost in the details... I can't really, like, take one step back and look at the region... I mean I can see that the same way Iraq is like a volcano, boiling, and it's going to erupt at any second, it seems like other places that are under occupation, like Palestine, or that are under heavy intervention, like Lebanon, or under U.S.-supported dictatorships like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are all boiling. There's so much anger.
Today one of the students asked me a question in the school about suicide bombers - you know, how savage the suicide bombers are. And I said, you know, I was explaining how historically, imperialist powers have played this game of good violence and bad violence. How, like, a person who puts a bomb on his body is bad and savage, and evil and medieval, but a laser-guided bomb is cool and should not be condemned. And I was saying these both are the same tools. The entire violent resistance in Iraq is actually one side of the bigger picture of resistance. There are many other forms of resisting the occupation in Iraq, or Palestine, or Lebanon, or Hawaii.
I was, you know, speaking about the petition that Hawaii had in 1893. [Bunny's note: here he is referring to the petitions commonly referred to as the Kue Petitions] Iraqis had a petition in 2005 with one million Iraqis that voted on it or signed on it, saying "We want you out!" Iraqis go on demonstrations with one million Iraqis demonstrating the streets, saying "We want you out of our country! We want our country back!" Iraqis voted for a parliament that passed resolutions that says "We want you out of our country". But the relationship between Iraq and the U.S., it's a dialogue. It's a two-way dialogue. If the U.S. government were to react and freak out every time Iraqis go on a one million people demonstration, I assure you that more people will go on demonstrations. If the U.S. government re-designed the plans for staying in Iraq indefinitely every time one million Iraqis signed on a petition, I assure that more Iraqis will sign petitions.
But when the U.S. government only reacts to violence, whether it's in Vietnam, or Lebanon, or Somalia, or Iraq, people will become more violent. People are not crazy. They don't repeat the same thing if it's not giving them a result. And the final result is not killing someone. The final result is getting your country back. If we gave the Iraqis, and the Lebanese, and the Palestinians, and other people a space to get their country back through non-violent resistance, they would choose that. They would prefer that. I'm sure that everyone would prefer to get their country back through writing petitions rather than blowing themselves up. That's easier, you know? But what's happening now in the region is that that door is being closed. That door of achieving change through non-violent resistance is being systematically ignored and closed. And that's why I always have this feeling that the entire region is on the verge of an eruption. It's on the verge of an explosion where people are so angry. They're so angry. And they want their sovereignty and independence back, and it's not being given to them in the easy way.
And that's why most of my work in D.C. is to say, the real two options that we have in Iraq is not an indefinite presence versus withdrawing the troops. The real two options that we have is either a withdrawal that happens in coordination with Iraqis - they're ready to talk to you, go talk to the Parliament, they're ready to negotiate the timetable for complete withdrawal - or, a withdrawal that happens without negotiation with Iraqis. A Vietnam-style, helicopters from rooftops withdrawal. These are the two options that the U.S. has in Iraq. And if we wanted to wait until the Vietnam-style, or the Somalia-style, or the Lebanon-style, or, you know, these types of withdrawals happen, it would cause more death and destruction from all sides. That's a disaster! But if we wanted to have a wiser decision, a decision that is based on facts and learning from previous mistakes, the U.S. must negotiate with the majority of Iraqis how to set a timetable that will end all of the U.S. presence there. Give Iraq back to the Iraqis.
People ask will some void will happen there? That's true. It's true I think, some void will happen. But there are Iraqis who will fill the void, you know? They'll fill the void. When the British troops were kicked out from Basra and other southern provinces in the last month of 2007, just five months ago, a void happened. A void was created, but Sunnis and Shiites didn't eat each other actually. No one killed each other. Violence dropped 90%. 90! Nine-zero percent! And this is according to local sources and even international sources. There was a good piece in the International Herald Tribune speaking about how violence dropped 90% after the coalition forces left Basra to Iraqis. So I mean, let's negotiate. There's an elective parliament, there are many Iraqis who are ready to negotiate, to end violence. The same way that let's negotiate with, you know, Syria, or Hamas, that's very open to negotiations and reaching to a pragmatic solution, and other places around the region.
[response to audience question] I think my advice on the strategy on how to deal with 'evil empires' - the foreign policy... [inaudible] Many times I feel that U.S. foreign policy makes it to our brains, you know? It makes it to our heads. So, just as individuals, to keep this mentality of U.S. exceptionalism and entitlement to interfere in other places in the world, this is very hard to fight against, because it's so alluring, you know? It makes you feel "good" about yourself, it's easy, you know? It's like, "Yeah, let's go give those savage people some civilization. Let's go, you know, build them some nice buildings. Let's go show them how a constitution is written, or something..." And we hear it all the time over the news. And sometimes I feel like, it's not just about a small league of unidentified decision makers who are [making] the foreign policy. No one knows who [makes] U.S. foreign policy, you know? It's not the public, it's not the Senate, or the Congress, that makes the foreign policy. Usually it's a small league of un-elected officials in the U.S., who don't really change with government. It's not that they are making it and there is resistance from the rest.
There are actually many people who do fall into the trap of buying into this policy, by saying, "Yeah, I was against the war, even before it started, but now that we are there, maybe we can do something good." I got an email from someone saying, "You know, I am very sorry about the occupation of your country and I feel responsible. I was against the war before it started... but now that we are there, don't you think it's worth it that we create a jury system (for the judicial system)?" And I sent him an email, I was mean actually, because I know that he contacted me with good intentions, like there are many people who contact me with good intentions. But I think the best gift, actually, to give to Iraqis, or Lebanese, or to Palestinians, is not to help them build a jury system. The best and most wanted gift to give to Iraqis and Iranians and Palestinians and Lebanese is to leave them alone. That's it. [applause]
I mean, not to sound like an isolationist - I mean like, I'm the least isolationist person, you know? I'm half Iraqi, half Palestinian, married to an Iranian, and living in the U.S... so [laugh] I'm not very isolationist. I'm all about mixing with other people and talking with them. But before we build relationships with other people, before we have this love and humanity and relationships with other people, we have to respect them. And we have to give them their space. First give them their home back and then help them, you know, wash their dishes or whatever they want to do. I mean we can't invade the neighbor's house and talk about, you know, how we like them, and like their children. We just can't, you know? And building relationships and helping Iraqis or Palestinians build their state, or reaching reconciliation, is really nice and much needed, you know? But now is not the time. We don't have a mechanism for that. First we have to completely end the intervention in other nations' sovereignty, and then we can identify mechanisms of reaching out to them, and working with them in solidarity, helping them. There is a very fine line between intervention and solidarity, and that line should be taken, you know, in a very serious way. Thank you very much everyone.
speaker: Raed Jarrar
video location/date: University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, May 23, 2008
event primary sponsor: American Friends Service Committee
other images: titles by Pinky
video credits: Special thanks to Daisy for recording the event.