US Peace Delegation and Iraqi Officials Open Dialogue
By Geoffrey Millard
t r u t h o u t | Report
Thursday 10 August 2006
US peace delegation meets with Iraqi Parliament members In Amman, Jordan.
Amman, Jordan - On the 9th of August, what began as the words to a bad joke ("A priest, a shrimp boat captain, an ex-diplomat, and an ex-soldier walk into a room of Iraqis ...") ended as a successful mission of diplomatic communication that found four of its members continuing on into Lebanon to do humanitarian work, including being human shields if necessary.
When CODEPINK co-founder and former shrimp boat captain Diane Wilson was confronted about the usefulness of the Troops Home Fast, she stated: "I got this deep faith, and sometimes you just got to believe, cuz ya'll never know what it will make for ya." In her simple southern way, Dianne somehow knew that this fast would bring something special, and on the day the New York Times published an op-ed on how hunger striking was simply not a successful tool for social change, the shrimper from Texas was packing her bags for Amman, Jordan, as part of a 12-person peace delegation that included CODEPINK co-founders Medea Benjamin, Jody Evans and Gale Murphy; former US Army colonel and US diplomat Ann Wright; ex-state senator from California Tom Hayden; United For Peace and Justice national co-chair Judith Le Blanc; an Iraqi-American, Raed Jarrar, of Global Exchange; Franciscan priest Father Luis Vitale; Congressional candidate against the war Jeeni Criscenzo (D-Calif.); businessman and peace activist Dal LaMagna; a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War; and others.
Not knowing the reactions of Iraqi parliamentarians to Americans caused some bit of nervous energy in the room as the first honored guest was awaited, but the excitement ran just as high knowing that this group was to embark on a road that the Bush administration was refusing to go down. This delegation of peace workers came across an ocean in order to find out what different Iraqi reconciliation plans existed and how they could best get the Iraqi people involved in the US discussion of their future. These plans differed in some details, but the overall objectives were clear: set a timetable for withdrawal of US troops, dissolve the militias, recognize the resistance as legitimate, strengthen the Iraqi army, repeal the Bremer laws, and rework the US-pressured constitution.
The US timetable for withdrawal was the most important item to all parties concerned, and ideas ranged from an actions-related timetable of more than a year promoted by the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue's Dr. Saleh al Mutla (an Iraqi parliament member) to the more radical timetable to begin immediately, presented by others including Dr. Ahmad al Kubaisi, of the Association of Muslim Scholars, based in Baghdad. This issue was a sticky one - it was being discussed because militias, which now plague Iraq and are commonly called death squads, are running the country with impunity. Some, including Dr. Al Mutla, feel that this is something that the US must deal with before withdrawing its troops, and even hint at an increased troop level in the meantime, while others like Dr. Al Kubaisi feel that "this is an Iraqi problem, and when the Americans are gone, we as Iraqis will solve it and no longer fight." Either approach seems much closer to the Murtha or Kerry plan for exit of the region than the Bush doctrine of "stay the course" that now dictates American troop levels in the war.
The US timetable for withdrawal would, in all Iraqi plans, go hand in hand with solving the other problems of Iraq, especially the elimination of the death squads - which most believe to be the cause, not the manifestation, of the highly touted sectarian division now facing Iraq. Once the US sets a timetable and the militias are dissolved, the consensus is that the Iraqi government could, if given the proper authority to do so, successfully solve the remainder of Iraq's many problems. It must, though, also be said that the Iraqi delegation, which included victims of torture at the hands of the occupation including at Abu Ghraib, would also require a financial commitment by the United States for some time, in order to see all reconciliation fully through.
For the Iraqi delegation, it is clear that the US must leave its country, and for those who feel more security is a necessity until these death squads are dealt with, all involved agreed that a UN peacekeeping force, comprised mainly of countries who would not participate in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and/or Arab countries (who would ultimately have most at stake in the region), would be preferable to the United States merely staying the course.
So what does happen when a priest, a shrimp boat captain, an ex-diplomat, and an ex-soldier walk into a room of Iraqis? Peace! Well, at least an example of what could happen should the Bush administration choose to begin a diplomatic solution to the Iraq quagmire and set a new course with a timetable for withdrawal of American troops, rather than stay a course which only guarantees more death squad rampages and more flag-draped coffins coming back to American shores in cargo planes.
Geoffrey Millard spent more than 8 years in the United States military, 13 months in Iraq. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace. Geoffrey now works as a correspondent for Truthout and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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