For two intense days in Amman, Jordan, some of the leaders in the peace movement in the United States listened and learned from the leaders of the Iraqi people. We didn't always hear what we'd expected and it's going to take a couple of days of re-reading my notes and listening to my audio recordings to digest and absorb everything. But I didn't want to wait too long to share some of the highlights with you. I was honored to be with such extraordinary people, from both countries, who are committed to making peace happen. And I'm certain that, it will be the ordinary people, like you and me, who will bring about this change, simply because we refuse to stand silent while the bullies beat up the world.
Some of the things I heard in the past few days made me sick and ashamed of my country. I'm certain that if you knew about the things being done in our name you would join me in working to put an end to it.
I think that's what these meetings were - the beginning of the end of the people standing by while cruelty and destruction are done in our names. In my last paragraph I'm putting forward a tiny idea that I think can grow. I hope you'll help me make that happen.
The most consistent message we heard from every Iraqi representative, from every party and tribe, was "We want the Americans out of our country." There was nothing ambiguous about it. Even the eleven Parliamentarians we heard from on Friday morning, representing the Iraq National Dialogue Front, a small, secular block that has perhaps the most to gain from a U.S. takeover, agreed that a timetable must be set for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and that no permanent U.S. bases should remain in Iraq.
Two scholars who spoke with us on Friday afternoon reiterated that the troops must leave. One man, a Sunni, whom I would presume has the most to fear if our troops were to leave them in the throws of civil war, stated, "Our problem is not Sunni or Shia, our problem comes on the American tanks. We have tens of thousands of our sons in prison being tortured," he said and told of his own scars from the torture he suffered at the hands of Americans while being held in prison. I told him that hearing from him, a Sunni, that he wants the U.S. troops out of his country, I am committed to going back to my fellow candidates to ask them to make withdrawal a priority in their campaigns. His response broght me and many others in our group to tears. "When I hear you say this," he said, "Some of the pain from my wounds is lifted. I did not know that there were good Americans left anymore. You have given me hope."
This fact-finding mission helped clarify for me that when I tell people "Nothing good can come from being there one more day," that I am speaking for the Iraqi people as well as the Americans.
While I'd anticipated somewhat of an agreement about withdrawal of our troops, the equally unanimous opposition to partitioning Iraq (federalism) was counter to what I'd been led to believe from the reading I did in preparation for this trip. Unfortunately, the Kurds, who are probably the major proponents of splitting up Iraq, were not represented at this meeting, but it was clear that the Shia and Sunni want to keep them and their oil-rich territory within their boundaries. And the Shia and Sunni made a point of emphasizing that they are not a party to the hostilities happening between their group.
Some blamed Iran for bringing in militia forces that are deliberately causing strife in their mixed communities. Others implied that the United States was deliberately instigating the conflicts so they would have an excuse to stay. If that's the case, it seemed from the people we met, that the Iraqi people are not buying it. More than one Sunni man revealed that his wife was Shia or vis-a-versa and that this is commonplace. "The US wants Iraq to reach a point where we say, `Please stay because otherwise we will fight amongst ourselves,'" said Iraqi cardiologist and Parliamentarian, Dr. Omar al-Kubiassi, (as he lit another cigarette). But we have been getting along for hundreds of years!
To explain why they felt the Shia/Sunni conflicts were a foreign contrivance, they told us that it is not customary to even ask whether someone is Shia or Sunni. A soft-spoken high school teacher who had been taken from his home in the middle of the night, imprisoned and tortured for seven months, said that when he his interrogators asked if he was a Shia or Sunni, he responded that he thought that was a very unusual question. One of the scholars who spoke to us, also said that people don't (or didn't) ever ask if someone is Shia or Sunni and it is considered rude to make such an inquiry. So the sudden swelling of assaults and murder between these two groups is suspicious to many Iraqis. That's something I never would have learned sitting at home watching TV.
It is important to distinguish between the militia, or death squads and the resistance, particularly when considering the amnesty aspects of the Reconciliation Plan crafted in Cairo last month. Over 95% of the Iraqi people oppose the presence of the U.S. troops in their country and consider the people the U.S. call "insurgents" to be patriotic freedom fighters -- no different that how we look at the people who fought in our Revolutionary War. Heroic titles go to the victors and if justice is to ever come to the people of Iraq, the people we call insurgents will have to be recognized as the ones who are actually defending their homeland.
We were assured that when the US troops are re-deployed out of Iraq, the insurgents will set their sights on the militia who are nothing more than thugs and thieves acting without a care for their countrymen or the guidelines of justice and morality. While we should remove our troops from Iraq as quickly as possible (and in the northern and southern regions that are very stabilized, that can start immediately, the Iraqis seem to agree that they would still need some assistance from the U.S. in terms f weapons and of cource, money. The Reconciliation Plan that was agreed to in Cairo included setting a timetable for withdrawal of US forces, with a possible UN force to help in the transition. Unity of Iraq (no partitioning), an amnesty for insurgents, compensation and reconstruction and secularism were also addressed in the plan.
It was explained that right now the Iraqi people and their leaders have no say in anything and thus no stake in their country - and a lot of the problems stem from the 100 laws that Paul Bremmer put into place just before stepping down. Many in our delegation were astonished to learn that the economic aspects of these laws were the least of their objections. I guess, when you compare privatization of everything in your country with your family being kidnapped and your men folk being arrested and tortured for no reason, and your towns being leveled, there's some areas you just have to overlook for now.
The actual timetable for withdrawal wasn't something everyone agreed on - it seemed more important to them to know for certain that there is an end to this, in the relatively near future. Some plans were put forth for how to determine the timetable and I'll address that in a separate diary. I'd also like to tell you about the overall experience of being in Jordan, the people we've met and how it felt to be part of this delegation. More important, I will be proposing a "Putting People in Power" plan in the next week that I am going to send out to all of my fellow candidates for Congress. It will ask them to stand up to serve the will of the majority of Americans by committing to making a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq our top priority when we sit together in the 110th Congress this January. This has a singular purpose - to give the majority of Americans, who now say they want us out of Iraq, a way to get what they want - by knowing who the candidates are who have make a promise start it within the first month of our term.
While the rest of our peace delegation has gone on to meet with Lebanese refugees, I decided it was more important for me to get home and get this campaign won, so I can be one of those Representatives this January, standing up for what the people of America want. I've seen enough of the Middle East to know that what we once had in America is worth fighting to get back. Look for more details when I get home in a couple of days.
Jeeni Criscenzo for Congress
V. 760-529-9809 F. 760-859-3106
PO Box 927, Oceanside, CA 92049-0927