Humanizing the Iraqi people

Rick McDowell recently visited Indianapolis to share his experiences after living in Baghdad over much of the past two years. Rick and his wife, Mary Trotochaud, are senior fellows for Iraqi policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). They lived in a residential neighborhood of Baghdad in what he called the "Red Zone" - or all of Iraq excluding the heavily fortified "Green Zone," which is the 4 square miles encompassing the U.S. and British embassies. The distrust and cynicism that has resulted from the poorly planned post-invasion period has only fueled the "insurgency."

McDowell's expressed mission in meeting with groups throughout the U.S. was to "humanize" the Iraqi people. He was also promoting a resolution adopted by FCNL in April 2005 calling on Congress to publicly declare that the U.S. has no intention of setting up permanent bases in Iraq. McDowell reasoned that this proclamation matched with demonstrable actions would do more to quell the "insurgency" than any use of lethal force. "The fact is," he said, "the majority of Iraqis are wary of U.S. intentions in the Middle East."

During his presentation, a series of images flashed on a screen behind him: images of families, children, soldiers, devastated landscapes, crumbling buildings and barbed wire.

He clear his profound disappointment in the U.S.-led invasion and the continued occupation of Iraq. Before the invasion the Iraqi people had access to clean water, electricity, health care, education and a basic sense of security.

McDowell also made it clear that the Iraqis he knew were grateful for the removal of Saddam Hussein. He, along with his Iraqi neighbors, believed U.S. leaders when they promised that things would get better. "Surely a country as great as the United States can restore our electricity and bring us security" was a refrain he heard time and again from locals. "After all, Saddam restored electricity within a few months after the first Gulf War." Those hopes and expectations have yielded to extreme disappointment and frustration. He claimed that most Iraqis are aware that the U.S. focused more resources on protecting oil assets rather than restoring electricity or rebuilding desperately needed hospitals. The distrust and cynicism that has resulted from the poorly planned post-invasion period has only fueled the "insurgency."

McDowell wanted to make four points very clear to his U.S. audience:

* The Iraqi people did not ask for this invasion/occupation by the United States.

* Many are offended when the foreign press refers to them as "Sunnis, Kurds or Shiites" rather than Iraqi.

* The insurgency is a complex mix of groups motivated by a variety of reasons.

* There is a letter signed by 81 members of the newly formed parliament that was made public on June 19, 2005, calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

The letter went on to express dismay that the "Iraqi government has asked the U.N. Security Council [and President Bush] to prolong the stay of occupation forces without consulting representatives of the people who have the mandate for such a decision. Therefore we must reject the occupation's legitimacy and renew our demand for these forces to withdrawal."

McDowell did not advocate for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, however, he did not express any optimism that their continued stay would improve the situation. He added that the situation will improve in Iraq when we, the American people, begin to advocate for a "victory for the Iraqi people" and not necessarily a victory for the current U.S. administration. To achieve this he said we must publicly recognize gross miscalculations and demand new advisors and a better policy from our elected leaders.

Finally, McDowell mentioned that the oil resources in Iraq have been both a blessing and curse. Iraq's oil reserves will be aggressively sought after as long as there is a high demand for oil, which will only increase with the economic boom in China and India. He suggested that U.S. innovation, along with responsible government policy, could lead the world in conservation and viable alternative sources of energy, thereby reducing the demand for oil and some of the tension in the Middle East. This strategy would also require responsible consumption behavior from folks like you and me.

I spoke to McDowell the day after George Bush made his appeal from Ft. Bragg asking Americans to continue support for this war.

"The president offered no new ideas," he said. "Suggesting that we 'stay the course' reminds me of one definition of insanity: making the same mistakes over and over while expecting different results." He was disappointed that the president used the military, again, as a backdrop to deliver his speech. "I was incredulous that Mr. Bush continues to link 9-11 to the war in Iraq, a notion that the president himself has discounted. The innocent victims that have died and are continuing to die in Iraq had nothing to do with that tragic event."

The World Tribunal on Iraq was recently held in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 23-27. For more informed analysis on the war and ongoing struggle visit

Charlie Wiles is a homemaker and working on several initiatives to promote interfaith and international dialogue. He can be reached at