"AMERICA, YES! WAR, NO."
A VIEW FROM IRAQ
Professor Bill Quigley
Loyola University New Orleans School of Law
JURIST Guest Columnist
The Iraqi soldier was cradling a big machine gun under one arm when he walked towards me in Baghdad. “You are from America, no?” he asked. “Yes” I said. The soldier paused and said “Welcome to our country.” Then he stretched his arm that was not holding the machine gun, turned his thumb up and said “America, Yes!” Then he turned his thumb down and said, “Bush, no!”
I visited Iraq for ten days a few weeks ago as a member of the Iraq Peace Team, a project of Voices in the Wilderness, a joint US/UK campaign to end the economic sanctions against the Iraqi people. We brought $30,000 worth of donated medicines into the country with us. We undertook our mission despite the prohibitions of federal and international laws which impose deadly sanctions against the 24 million people of Iraq.
The biggest surprise of my visit was that individual people in Iraq were not angry at us as Americans. We met hundreds of people. Not a single one cursed us. Not one person raised their voices or fists at us. Some of the people we met were United Nations and government officials, but most were regular people like teachers, waiters, cab drivers, nurses, doctors, and merchants. Not one was ugly to us.
The Iraqi people we met were very aware that President Bush was calling for war against them and they hated that. One man said that when he leaves the house for work, his 8 year old daughter worriedly asks “Daddy, what if the war starts today, while you are gone?”
The people of Iraq are also definitely still reeling under the punishing effects of the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War and the UN sanctions. Basic tap water is dangerous because their water purification system is still largely destroyed. Many medicines and health care technology are still kept out of the country by the sanctions. They all know that UNICEF has reported that over a half million children under the age of 5 have died since the Gulf War as a direct result of the sanctions. These children died not as a result of conventional military warfare and bombing but from diarrhea and respiratory infections. That is 4500 children dying each and every month. That the Iraqis hate.
Iraqi citizens know our country is preparing for a much more intense war against them. During our visit to Basra, a city of 2 million, the airport was bombed by planes from the US or the UK. These fighter jets were enforcing a no-fly zone that neither the UN or international law has ever authorized. That shocked us visiting Americans, but not the people of Basra. It turns out that Basra is bombed like that regularly, more than once a week on average.
Despite all this, the Iraqi people we met did not feel that the threats from America were from individual civilians like us. Though they hated our foreign policy, they were open to us.
On a walking trip through a crowded market, I came to a spot where people could only pass one at a time. I stopped to let a tall bearded man in a robe go first. “No,” he said, “You are visitor, you go first.” I thanked him and then he said, “What country are you from?” I said “America.” “Welcome to our country,” he said and strode off.
The Iraqis were readily able to distinguish between the threatening rhetoric of our leaders and the concerns of individual people in our country. When people ask me what I found on my trip, I tell them “I found there are 24 million people in Iraq not named Saddam Hussein.”
When we were leaving the hotel in Basra, a man in his mid 20s came up to our group. He introduced himself and said he had something he wanted to say to us. He said: “I want to offer the condolences of the Iraqi people to the people of America for the suffering you endured on September 11. We, too, know unearned suffering.” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a small picture of a little girl with dark hair and a ribbon round her head. “This is my daughter,” he said. I want you to have her picture and the message I have written on the back. On the back of the picture was printed: “Dear American administration mems. I am Sala Adil. I am 8 months. I am Iraqi. I would be very grateful if you let me live peacefully away of bombing and sanctions like all the children of the world. Sala.”
The Iraqi people are able to distinguish between the political leadership of our country and the civilian population. What about us?
I have talked to a lot of people since I returned from Iraq. Almost everyone wants Saddam Hussein not to be in charge of Iraq. That is not in question. The question is, what price is America willing to pay for regime change?
I do not think Americans are willing to give up the lives of 10,000 US soldiers to effect a regime change in Iraq. I am absolutely sure Americans are not willing to give up the lives of 10,000 innocent US civilians to effect regime change in Iraq. But is America willing to give up 10,000 civilian Iraqi lives for regime change in Iraq? That question is not being discussed. I do not think that American citizens feel that innocent US civilian lives are any more precious than innocent Iraqi civilian lives. I do not think the people in either country want to give up thousands of civilian lives over the question of regime change. But I am not so sure about the governments.
We in America have many freedoms and many blessings that Iraqi citizens do not have. I am using my freedom to try to stop our government from paying for regime change with the lives of our own sons and daughters. I am also using my freedom to stop our government from paying for regime change with the lives of Iraqi sons and daughters, especially the lives of innocent civilian children like little Sala.
I say “America, yes. War on Iraq, no.”
Bill Quigley is a professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans. He recently returned from a visit to Iraq with the Iraq Peace Team.
November 12, 2002