Zaineb Istrabadi is the associate director of Indiana University's Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program. Having grown up in both Iraq and Indiana (where she graduated from Bloomington North High School in 1973), Istrabadi jokingly describes herself as a "Baghdadi-Hoosier." A founding member of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, Dr. Istrabadi has emerged as one of the country's leading Iraqi-American commentators, and is a frequent guest on National Public Radio as well as other media outlets.
Iraqi-American Zaineb Istrabadi: "I have no doubt whatsoever that we did not go into Iraq to save the Iraqi people."
Istrabadi will be giving an address at the Indiana Council on World Affairs Distinguished Speakers Dinner on Sept. 10 at Butler University, in the Johnson Room in Robinson Hall. Her talk begins at 7:15 p.m. Members of the ICWA can attend for $3, non-members for $4. For more information about the Indiana Council on World Affairs, call 549-4159 or check www.butler.edu/icwa/.
NUVO: A few weeks ago, we passed a threshold where more U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the end of formal hostilities than were killed during the actual invasion. Some people are comparing the Iraq situation to Vietnam, and there is talk that the U.S. should just pull out altogether and cut our losses.
Istrabadi: We definitely can not withdraw yet, because if we do withdraw now, there will be chaos. There will be civil wars. So I don't think that is an option. Getting the United Nations involved might be a solution, but we have so antagonized the United Nations, I don't know whether they will cooperate or not. As for the Iraqi people, they have been between a rock and a hard place for 13 years, and they still seem to be in that situation.
NUVO: During the build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, you were very vocal in your concern about the potential for war, but also open about being troubled by the U.S. peace movement. What troubled you about the peace movement?
Istrabadi: They were against war breaking out, which is the way I felt. I felt war would bring disaster to the Iraqi people. However, I could not stand in their ranks when they had vigils and demonstrations, because I felt that they had nothing to say about Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party. This is a problem with the American left: They were critical of the U.S. tyranny, but they had nothing to say about the tyranny over there [in Iraq].
I discovered when I was in New York [at Columbia University from 1986 until 2001], some of the groups working for the end of the sanctions, for example, had absolutely nothing to say about Saddam. They were simply being pro anything that is anti-American. This is where I fault them. Pardon my language, but I don't think they give a damn about the Iraqi people, they really don't.
NUVO: Do you think there were good motives for the U.S. invasion and now the occupation?
Istrabadi: I have no doubt whatsoever that we did not go into Iraq to save the Iraqi people. We went in there for other reasons. No. 1, it was about oil and No. 2, it was about projection of American power. In other words, don't mess with us.
NUVO: How do you feel about Western corporations like Halliburton and WorldCom being given such a prominent role in rebuilding Iraq?
Istrabadi: On some level, it is really disgusting. How should the Iraqi people feel about these large corporations going in and building bridges and buildings at 10 and 20 times the cost that it would take for Iraqi engineers to build these buildings? I remember back when the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980, there was a television interview with a distinguished British diplomat who said, "Let them go at it and destroy each other and then the West will come in and rebuild it." It was a cynical attitude, but he got it right on the money.
NUVO: You say the U.S. can't just walk out of Iraq now, but have there been appropriate steps toward turning over power to the Iraqi people?
Istrabadi: Not yet. Even though cabinet ministers have been appointed, every ministry will be supervised by an American advisor, quote-unquote. I was telling this to my mother, and her response to me was that this is what the British did when they occupied Iraq. There is someone there, I'll bet you, who has veto power over anything that the Iraqis may want to decide.
Despite having lived under one of history's worst tyrannies, we are a proud and independent people. So now while people are sleeping, their houses are being broken into by U.S. troops and they are taken out in their underwear and handcuffed and taken away. But, according to The Washington Post, 75 percent of those arrested haven't done anything and are let go. Now I would like to know if that happened to you or me, would we just shrug our shoulders and say, "It's OK, I understand. They are just doing their job."
Or would we be questioning whether these people are really here to liberate us, or are they here to humiliate us?