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Listening to Iraqi Voices

How can Iraq find peace? Entrepreneur and activist Dal LaMagna traveled with Code Pink to neutral ground in Jordan to find out what the Iraqi people think. In part 2 of our series on creating peace in Iraq, LaMagna describes the Iraqi proposals for quelling the violence, and his efforts to bring their voices directly to the U.S. Congress and the American people.
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Dal LaMagna
Dal LaMagna

It turns out, the Iraqi leadership have some pretty clear ideas, and LaMagna wanted to present them to people back in the United States. From more than 16 hours of video footage taken during the discussion, he compiled an interactive presentation in which Iraqis speak for themselves about the keys to restoring peace. The meetings also led to the Iraq Reconciliation Plan.

In November, LaMagna returned to Jordan, this time with Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state, to meet with members of the Iraqi parliament and also ambassadors and leaders from other Middle East countries.

YES! Magazine associate editor Lisa Farino spoke with LaMagna about this strategy for bringing peace to Iraq. This interview is the second in a three-part series (part 1 here) about practical strategies for creating peace in Iraq.


Photos of Iraqis involved in the Amman talks: Sheik Bzeigh Al-G'ood, Dr. Nada M Ibrahim, Abdul Nasser Kareem Al Jana, Faruq Ziada
From top:
Sheik Bzeigh Al-G'ood,
Dr. Nada M Ibrahim,
Abdul Nasser Kareem Al Jana, Faruq Ziada

Lisa: What were your goals in talking with Iraqi members of parliament?

Dal: Our goal was to collect direct information from the Iraqi people to bring back home, to hear another viewpoint of how the problems in Iraq might be solved. By capturing the voices of Iraqis on video, we could bring those voices directly back to Congress and the American people, instead of just bringing back our opinion of what we heard.

With this documentation, we hope to encourage the new Congress to start a listening process and have hearings so they can hear from Iraqis themselves, and not just the ones the Bush Administration is parading through.

Ultimately the goal is to have that process result in Congress taking a united position about what to do to resolve the violence.

Lisa: What was the purpose of including people from other countries in the meeting?

Dal: Iraq is everyone's problem. If you see Iraq on the map, you see Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait around it. All of these countries are very much affected by what's going on in Iraq.

Lisa: What did you learn from the non-Iraqis?

Dal: We repeatedly heard that the U.S. does not have a fair policy in the Middle East, that it unilaterally, unquestioningly supports any thing that Israel does.

In addition, they all really cared about their Iraqi neighbors and wanted the war to end. But many of them felt that it was too late to stop the violence in Iraq, that the situation had gotten out of control. They were very despondent about the situation, but they didn't know what the solution was.

When we finally forced them to say what they thought we could do, two common themes emerged. First, turn over the security of Iraq to a UN trusteeship. Second, convene a meeting with all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran.

Lisa: Now that you've gathered all this additional information from your second trip, what are you're doing with it?

Dal: I am launching a campaign to bring Iraqi voices to the table here in the U.S. Americans don't really hear from Iraqis. They hear from the administration, they hear from reporters, they hear from experts, but they don't hear from Iraqis.

I am trying to bring Iraqi voices to as many Americans as I can. I'm also working with Iraq Voices for Peace to try to bring members of the Iraq parliament over here to meet with Congress and to participate in hearings. We're having trouble getting visas for the parliamentarians, but if we can't get them here then we'll just do videoconferencing. The goal is to have members of Congress talk directly to members of the Iraqi parliament.

I'm also assembling a DVD presentation of Iraqi voices so activists can take this and use it to show people throughout the country.

Finally, I'm working on a film, Listening to Iraqis, that would help educate people about Iraqi politics and history, how we got here, and what went wrong. It would also focus on listening directly to the voices of the Iraqi people about how to solve their country's problems.

Congressman Jim McDermott
Congressman Jim McDermott

Lisa: One of your goals is to get members of Congress meeting with Iraqi members of parliament, either in person or by videoconferencing. How many members of Congress are actually willing to participate in the dialogue?

Dal: I have yet to have one say no. The question is, how many of them can I get to, and that's why we're organizing these hearings so that we can have them all in one room. We're going after every member who has an Iraq specialist on staff.

Lisa: Have you had both Democrats and Republicans interested in these meetings?

Dal: Yes. This isn't a partisan issue. I don't know one member of Congress who doesn't want to stop the killing and maiming of Americans and Iraqis. People just have different opinions about how to do that. They are all eager to hear from Iraqis, especially when they know that it's not just a random Iraqi but a member of parliament.

Lisa: I understand that you've moved to Washington, D.C. and are devoting all your time to working to stop the Iraq war. How did you make this transition into doing this?

Dal: I used to own a company, Tweezerman, which I sold in 2004. I have plenty of money, I'm single, I'm healthy, and I can be traveling the world doing anything I please, but I can't relax knowing that people are being kidnapped and killed because of us. The U.S. has done this and right now we are the only ones in the world who can fix it.

People sometimes ask me why I don't feel this way about Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, or any other place where injustice was committed. It's because we didn't do it. It wasn't our fault. But Iraq is our fault.

I've been working on the leverage point where I feel I can have the most impact. For me, that's sitting down with members of Congress to help facilitate a meeting of minds between the Iraqi citizens who are suffering and the members of Congress who have the power to create a plan to stop the killing and kidnapping and create an Iraq where people can live in peace and raise a family.


Dal LaMagna

Lisa Farino is Associate Editor of YES! Magazine.

Dal LaMagna, a board member of the Positive Futures Network, publishers of YES! Magazine, is founder of ProgressiveGoverment.org, which recently merged with the Backbone Campaign. He has co-produced several films, including The War Tapes and Iraq for Sale. Through his company, Tweezerman, Dal pioneered social responsibility in the production of tweezers. Dal is on the board of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute and a leader in the Social Venture Network, the Kennedy School of Government, and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.

See the first part of this three-part series: Peace is Possible in Iraq, an interview with Medea Benjamin.

Transcripts and video about the trip and the full text of the 10-Point Iraq Reconciliation Plan can be found at www.progressivegovernment.org.

Hear Dal LaMagna speak about his Listening trips to Amman, Jordan
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