The 13th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq came and went on March 19 with little public acknowledgment. Conversely, before the illegal U.S.-led invasion, under the false premise of halting a non-existent weapons program, there was robust public discourse as many people – including numerous scholars, political analysts, and elected officials on both sides of the aisle –predicted that the U.S. military invasion would provoke a rise in extremism and sectarian divide and destabilization of the region, in addition to the toll in civilian and military casualties. And just over a year ago the public learned that what we now know as Daesh (also known as the Islamic State) was born in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq.
Too many of these predictions have proven true, as seen from the unprecedented flow of refugees fleeing to Europe’s shores and attacks attributed to Daesh in Istanbul and Brussels. The 2003 invasion led to the displacement of 1.5 million, or 1 in every 25, Iraqis. Since the rise of Daesh and the spread of conflict in the region, that number has grown. In June 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that there were nearly 4.5 million Iraqis who constitute a population of concern that includes refugees and internally displaced people. This does not include the impact on Iraq of refugees from Syria.
Lost in the political debates about appropriate responses to the refugee crisis is the fact that the crisis itself is in many ways a result of the U.S. war in the first place. It is even more shameful, then, that some of the very same politicians who pushed for this war are now pressing for discriminatory policies against and scapegoating of refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. and Europe.
Where do we go from here?
Because it waged an illegal war against Iraq, the U.S. must make reparations to the people of Iraq. A full reparations process would center members of Iraqi civil society in determining what should happen. Iraqis are up to the task. A growing liberation movement in Iraq, years in the making, is demanding rights for workers, women, environmentalists, and anti-imperialist activists and resisting the repressive policies of both the Iraqi state and extremist opposition forces. Discussions of a post-war framework often ignore the existence of organizers on the ground who envision a free and just Iraq. Our work is to center their vision in our discourse around what the future might look like for Iraq.
That question will be explored in an event this Thursday, “Envisioning the Postwar: A Dialogue with Scholars, Organizers, and Veterans.” The panel event will feature Iraqi organizers and academics alongside U.S. service members discussing a community approach to reparations for the war, as well as recounting the efforts towards justice Iraqi organizers are engaged in and describing the various ways the war continues today for affected communities in Iraq and in the U.S.
This discussion builds on calls for reparations CCR and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, Iraq Veterans Against the War, MADRE, Civilian Soldier Alliance, the War Resisters League, and other groups have been making since we launched the Right to Heal Initiative in March 2013, at the ten-year anniversary of the invasion. We continue to demand that the U.S. ensure accountability for its egregious and calamitous violations by prosecuting officials who manufactured false justifications for the invasion and led the country into an illegal war, as well as by fully cooperating with international legal efforts seeking justice. Additionally, the U.S. should provide reparations for the war through environmental clean-up, provision of physical and psychosocial health care, funding of research on the impact of the war on Iraqis, transparency around the use of toxic munitions, public acknowledgment of the war’s harms, and acceptance of responsibility. Reparations could also be achieved through improved policies around asylum for refugees and through reconstruction of critical infrastructure and other public amenities damaged or stolen during the war. The reconstruction of infrastructure should be part of a reparations package for wrong done and not portrayed as a charitable, optional aid package.
U.S. officials and political leaders must be cognizant of the fact that the illegal war many of them endorsed has wrought some of the humanitarian catastrophes we are witnessing today. It’s time that these politicians listen and take the lead from Iraqi civil society in order to move towards a just future.