What would it take to create peace in Iraq? On August 2, 2006, a delegation of American citizens—including YES! board member Dal LaMagna and Code Pink cofounders Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, and Gael Murphy—met with fifteen Iraqis in Amman, Jordan to find out. The American activists spent two days listening to a variety of Iraqi citizens, including five Iraqi parliamentarians from the major Shi'a, Sunni, and secular parties, as well as Iraqi intellectuals, torture victims, professionals, and religious leaders.
The American Delegation summarized the views of this diverse group of Iraqis in the Iraq Reconciliation Plan
, a concrete plan for ending the violence in Iraq. The plan's ten points are items identified by the Iraqis themselves as essential to restoring peace.
YES! Magazine Associate Editor Lisa Farino spoke with Medea Benjamin about this initial meeting. Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and Code Pink. This interview is the first part of a three-part series about practical strategies for creating peace in Iraq (part 2 here). Sign up
for our newsletter to hear about the next installment.
Lisa: What were some of the main things you learned from the Iraqis during these discussions?
Medea: We learned that there were major differences among the different groups but also some major commonalities. The biggest commonality is that they were all anxious to find a way for the U.S. troops to leave. Some of them said they should have been gone yesterday and tomorrow wouldn't be soon enough, and some thought that their departure had to be part of a slower, broader peace process so that things would not get worse. It was very interesting for me to learn that some Iraqis felt that the presence of the US troops was the only ace they had to negotiate with the United States for things like money for rebuilding their country because as soon as the troops left, they felt the U.S. would wash its hands of its financial responsibilities. And so they wanted the troops to stay while an agreement was worked out with the United States around its obligations. So there was a variety of opinions about when and how U.S. troops should leave, but all Iraqis we met with not only wanted all the foreign troops to leave but also wanted a fixed timetable for that process to happen.
They also told us that many Iraqis have been working seriously on a peace and reconciliation process since November, 2005, when they had their first reconciliation meeting in Cairo. This was underreported in the U.S. press, but it's very important to understand that the Iraqis are not sitting around waiting for the U.S. to end the violence. They are meeting intensely to come up with their own peace plan. But a precondition of that peace plan is setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. In the U.S., we are hearing a lot of blame being put on the Iraqis themselves—“they're not stepping forward to fix their own country”, “we're doing our part but they're not doing theirs.” That is just such garbage. Iraqis have been actively trying to stop the sectarian violence and end the occupation, but their efforts are being thwarted by the Bush administration.
Lisa: How have they been thwarted by the Bush administration?
Medea: The Iraqis we met with reported that the efforts to come up with a peace plan between the different Iraqi groups had been bearing fruit. Several plans had been proposed, including the 28-point plan that had been hashed out by different groups, including seven different insurgent groups. But when the prime minister was ready to publicly announce the plan, the Bush administration stepped in and said, “No, wait. There are certain elements of this plan that we're not going to allow to move forward.” And those were some of the most important elements of the plan.
Lisa: What were those elements?
Medea: First, there was the issue of a fixed timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The insurgent groups said that without that, there was no way that they would sit down at the table to work out a reconciliation plan. Second was the issue of amnesty. Most wars end in amnesty. From South Africa to El Salvador to Ireland, conflicts have ended with amnesties. German and Japanese soldiers who killed thousands of Americans were granted amnesty after WWII, and in our own Civil War, Confederate soldiers who swore allegiance to the United States were pardoned. Amnesty is the way a war ends and soldiers are reincorporated into society.
The Iraqi insurgents said that there must be amnesty, not for people who attack civilians but for people who attacked soldiers, whether they were U.S. soldiers or Iraqi soldiers. This would go for all sides. But the U.S. government said there was no way they were going to allow the Iraqi government to sanction amnesty for Iraqis who killed U.S. soldiers. That was a deal-breaker for the reconciliation process right there, because if you're not going to offer amnesty to insurgents, why should they put down their weapons?
Those were two key elements. There were several more, but basically those were the two major points without which there was no moving forward with the peace process.
Lisa: Was there anything about the meeting that really surprised you?
Medea: It surprised me that not only the Sunnis, but even representatives of Shi'a who were being attacked by the Sunnis, recognized that Iraqis have the right to fight against foreign occupation. They thought it was legitimate to fight foreign soldiers, and some even agreed that it was legitimate to target U.S. contractors as well as Iraqi soldiers and police who collaborated with the foreign occupiers. But both groups made a clear distinction between legitimate armed resistance and terrorism. Terrorists attack civilians, they said, and they blamed foreign Al Qaeda jihadists for attacks on civilians. They also blamed the US military for attacks on civilians, which they said was a regular occurrence.
What also surprised me is that the Sunni representatives said that if the U.S. set a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops, they were sure many of the Sunni-based insurgent groups would not only stop fighting the U.S., but would join with the U.S.-trained Iraqi forces to drive Al-Qaeda and the jihadists out of Iraq.
Lisa: How do you think what you heard from the Iraqis differs from what we're hearing in the mainstream media about what's going on in Iraq?
Medea: First, at the time we went, there was a lot of talk in the U.S. about partitioning Iraq into three different almost autonomous states—the Kurdish area in the north, the Shi'a in the South, and the Sunnis in the middle. The Iraqis we met with were dead-set against that. They thought it would be a horrendous mistake that would cause never-ending violence over borders and rights to oil revenues. Since our trip, I think that sort of “solution” has since been put forward less enthusiastically
Second, there is the issue of the training of Iraqi soldiers. A lot of the discussion in the U.S. focuses on questions like: “How are we going to speed up the training? How are we going to make it more effective? Why don't these Iraqis fight, once we train them?” You get the impression that the Iraqis are just shifty and afraid, that they are not good soldiers.
But when we talked to several of the Iraqis, we got a very different picture. They criticized the U.S. trainers as being inexperienced or having experience that was not relevant to the Iraqi situation. They said that Iraqis have long been soldiers and have had more practice than U.S. soldiers in fighting wars in recent years, because they've had more of them. They had the long war with Iran, and many more Iraqis soldiers than U.S. soldiers were involved in the Gulf War because from the U.S. side, the war consisted more of a bombing campaign than on-the-ground fighting. So Iraqis that we met with talked about how Iraqis would be better at training their own people than Americans would.
The Iraqis also disagreed with the U.S. stance that it takes months to train soldiers. One of the men we met said there was forced conscription in Iraq, and so every Iraqi male over 18 has already had training, and further training could be done very quickly, in about 6 weeks.
The real issue right now isn't about training, they said, but about incentives. When soldiers decide not to fight, it's because they don't think the fight is a valid one, not because they're not well-trained. Why should Iraqis fight their brothers and sisters in Iraq for an outside occupation? There's also the issue of the infiltration of the military by militia groups who are loyal to a particular faction and not the nation as a whole. The Sunnis we met with complained bitterly about how the militias were attacking Sunni neighborhoods, with equipment they got from the U.S. military.
So the real problems involve incentives and loyalties. The U.S. can train Iraqi soldiers all it wants, as long as it wants, but that's not going to bring stability to Iraq. Stability can only come from a non-military solution.
Lisa: Is there anything else about the meeting you'd like to share?
Medea: In the U.S., we got a portrayal that the Iraqi constitution was a really democratic process, an example of how we were bringing democracy to Iraq. But, many of the Iraqis we talked to felt that the constitution was written in the U.S. and forced down the throats of the Iraqis. They also felt it was a setup for failure and violence because it allowed for the partitioning of the country and for a distribution of the oil revenue according to ethnic majority instead of fairly sharing it throughout the whole population.
That relates to something else that was really a revelation to me. Many Iraqis felt that the U.S. wanted the chaos. We kept asking, “Why?” One Iraqi had a very clear answer that the others all seemed to agree with—the U.S. is so powerful that it can get what it wants, and it must want chaos, because that's what we have.
They also felt that it was the plan of the U.S. from the very beginning to divide the country and have weak states in the Middle East, which would be easier for the U.S. to control than a strong, united Iraqi state. So the U.S. wasn't really interested in stopping the violence, because the violence was meant to encourage Iraqis to want to be divided into three separate states. There was very much a sense that this was all part of a pre-established Machiavellian plan by the Bush administration.
Lisa Farino is Associate Editor of YES! magazine. Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and Code Pink. This interview is the first part of a three-part series about practical strategies for creating peace in Iraq. Sign up
for our newsletter to hear about the next installment.
Full text, transcripts and video about the trip and the 10-Point Iraq Reconciliation Plan can be found at www.progressivegovernment.org
Iraq Reconciliation Plan: Ten Points
- End the occupation of Iraq.
- Create a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops that is synchronized with the implementation of the Iraq reconciliation plan.
- Disband the militias created after the occupation.
- Revise Bremer's Orders and allow the Iraqis to rebuild their army.
- Rewrite the Iraqi Constitution.
- Keep Iraq as one state and do not partition into multiple states.
- Begin the promised reconstruction of Iraq. Employ Iraqis and not foreign workers or contractors.
- Acknowledge Iraqis' right to resist the U.S. occupation, negotiate with the resistance, and give amnesty to Iraqis resisting the occupation.
- Investigate all the crimes that were committed by the new Iraqi Government and by the occupation forces in Iraq.
- Make a fair distribution of oil income and natural resources.
For an alternative exit plan for Iraq from Congressman and Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, see the , a comprehensive 12-point plan to withdraw American forces and contractors, establish a U.N. peacekeeping force, convene a regional conference to assist in stabilization, and provide funding for reconstruction, jobs, and reparations.