Well over a decade after the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, the effects of war linger. The trauma of war is compounded by the conflict between ISIS and local militias; women’s rights are threatened by conservative legislation and sexual violence; the health impact of war munitions is at a crisis point as rates of cancer and birth defects soar; and the U.S. continues to evade accountability for war crimes and torture. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. We know that the U.S. invasion of Iraq created the very conditions that allowed ISIS to so effectively emerge, and the U.S.’s promotion of sectarianism through occupation and nation-building only exacerbated the rise of ISIS. Given this history, liberation in Iraq and accountability for the U.S. war may seem hopeless. But we know that’s not the case.
“People there are demanding freedom and equality, the liberation of working people; it's not just war and destruction...There's life there, and in the end it's my home.”
– Jannat Alghezzi, Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
On March 19, 2013, the ten-year anniversary of the Iraq War, a coalition of organizations came together in front of the White House: members of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) joined together with the Center for Constitutional Rights and others to call for accountability and reparations for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Since then, the coalition, under the name the Right to Heal Initiative, has submitted reports to multiple human rights bodies documenting human rights violations stemming from the war, coordinated petitions and letters to U.S. and international officials, and organized our own People’s Hearing to share testimony from Iraqi civil society representatives, U.S. service members and their families, and other experts about the ongoing impacts of the war. Most recently, we’ve demanded that U.S. agencies release information about their use of depleted uranium munitions so that the communities suffering from the effects of these weapons can know where they were used and call for further research, remediation of toxic sites, and the health care they and their families need.
OWFI and FWCUI are only two important groups among a range of Iraqi organizations that have been struggling against repression from the combined forces of U.S. occupation and sectarian conflict since well before we came together in the Right to Heal Initiative. As the new book Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq documents, Iraqis have been engaged in struggles involving women, workers, and democracy activists that have a long, entwined history of anti-imperialist resistance and solidarity. On June 25, 2015, we’ll be celebrating that rich, ongoing history at a book launch event here in New York, “Against All Odds: A Night Celebrating Iraq”.
To make lasting change, we have to imagine bigger possibilities than what we see around us. As Jannat Alghezzi of OWFI reminds us, "there's a hidden truth, a truth the media doesn't shed light upon: there's life, there's people working, there's people providing support, there's people building – even in a basic way.”