On March 4, a panel discussion asked respected Iraqi and American voices to explore the effects of the ongoing war in Iraq. The discussion, called “Effects of the Iraq War,” acted as the closing event of Navigating the Aftermath, a month-long exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Regis Center for the Arts. The exhibit featured fourteen American and Iraqi artists who have been personally affected by the war.
The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) sponsored the exhibit. The organization works to build the bridge between Iraqis and Americans through art, education, health, and cultural exchange projects that promote peace and reconciliation. The organization hopes to raise consciousness in the American public about the well-being of average Iraqis, their daily lives, and their culture in response to the devastation caused by American invasion.
Indeed, answering questions about an ongoing war is hard. IARP’s aim with the discussion was to look to the future and give serious thought to what the war has done and is doing to each country. While Americans have seen a small part of the devastation and tragedy of the war, they want to take a step back to look at the collective and long-term effects of the war and how both countries might start to move forward toward healing and a more peaceful future.
Panelist Suaad Allami, an Iraqi women’s rights lawyer, is the winner of the 2009 International Women of Courage Award. She is also the Director of the Women for Progress Center in Baghdad, which provides free legal advice and medical care for women. “Over there, people don’t want to hear about women’s rights. They say, ‘There are more important issues.’ Many women don’t even know what rights they already have,” Allami said.
Panelist Wes Davey, an Iraq War veteran, co-founded the Minnesota chapter of ‘Iraq Veterans Against the War’. He said that he wants the service members to come back home. “They come back with severe mental problems and end up killing themselves… Our country has become greedy, wanting victory without pain,” he said.
Panelist Tom Hanson, a US Foreign Policy Consultant and a former Foreign Service Officer, is currently the Program Secretary of the St Paul-Minneapolis Committee on Foreign Relations. He said that America’s moral standing has greatly fallen around the world. “The number of Iraqi human lives lost because of the war will never be known…The  invasion was based on deception, and self-deception, we built our policies around these lies,” Hanson said. Even so, he supports President Barack Obama’s decision to not polarize the nation further by holding the Bush Administration criminally-responsible for their war crimes.
Hanson is concerned that Iraq has become “a war based on contracting, which hides the costs from view.” He worries that there will be “paid contractors to protect American assets after we leave [Iraq]-a mercenary force that is paid by American taxpayers through the Foreign Assistance Budget. Our plan of going in [to Iraq] was to protect US Armed Forces throughout the Middle East.”
Allami said that she sees the direct effects of corrupt army contractors on her people and that many Iraqis don’t feel as though America has enhanced their quality of life. “The US spends so much money on Iraq but the people don’t see the impact on the ground because of corrupt and dishonest local contractors,” she said.
Davey argues that we should adhere to the ideals of the Founding Fathers, who were against Imperialism and the idea of a large standing army. “We’re spending so much money on wars that we don’t have any left to do the things we need to,” he said, “such as developing green technology and investing in schools.”
At the discussion, Davey also spoke out against the ‘revolving-door’ between the Pentagon and Wall St-where businesses that manufacture weapons and other military supplies push the Pentagon to spend more taxpayer money. “The rest of America is not affected by this war… They are indifferent because there is no draft and we don’t see our tax money going to it,” Davey said.
Hanson agrees, saying that the war in Iraq continues only because “the elites are not exposed to it.” He said that he is becoming optimistic, however, because some Pentagon officials have said that Middle Eastern imperialism is no longer the goal. “We need to continue to support the independence of nations in the Middle East,” Hanson said.
Allami also sees hope for the future relationship between our two countries. She sees protests in Iraq calling for local officials to listen to the people and different sectors praying together and becoming more unified. “Americans have a responsibility to help the country. We feel alone, fighting to gain our rights,” she pleads, “Don’t leave us alone in this battle.”
“Effects of the Iraq War” was moderated by Harry Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
IARP provides material support to the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT) in Iraq. MPT works to bring all Iraqi groups together in peace to work for the good of the country. They do this by discouraging sectarian violence and encouraging the Iraqi people to be self-sufficient. MPT teaches peace and human rights so the Iraqi people can once again live in a civil society, to help the people to maintain their physical health, and to lift their spirits by providing encouragement and support.
The most pressing issue for MPT is sanitation education. The infrastructure of Iraq has been ruined by the wars in recent decades, including the destruction of water and sewage treatment plants. Most Iraqi families do not have a dependable source of pure water and have limited electricity. Contaminated water and spoiled food cause much of the illness in the country. MPT organizes teams to go house-to-house and educate families on how to protect themselves and learn to adapt to the lack of dependable refrigeration for their food.