Originally Published in The Jordan Times
When elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. Two nations like the United States and Iraq have unlimited potential for rendering irreversible damage to each other, to the environment and to the innocent people who get trampled underfoot in the stampede of war.
As a pacifist, I do not endorse violence.
But let’s imagine for a moment that I went along with the idea that removing President Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was a good idea, that this action would decrease the cycle of violence in the world, and that it were a decent and honourable thing to do.
Imagine that we got rid of Saddam. Then what?
There are still 23 million people living in Iraq, so long as we did not kill a significant number of them in dethroning the infamous leader of the Ba’ath party. Among the Iraqis left standing are young men and women who have grown up in a decidedly anti-American environment, who have been nutritionally deprived since conscious memory and who are living daily with the threat of future bombings which have dotted the landscape, virtually escaping Western media reports for the past eleven years.
Are we naive to think that this same underdeveloped population that has endured hellishly hot summers, putrid water and abominable health conditions will now embrace American presence and show gratitude for our reinvigorated military effort against them?
Imagine for a moment that we stopped finger-pointing and blaming Saddam for starving his people for the past eleven years. Imagine that we stopped blaming a recalcitrant Sanctions Committee and policy making team from the State Department. Imagine that we viewed the humanitarian crisis in Iraq simply as people in need. The unending, maddening seclusion maintained by the world community could then be addressed.
What will we do for these civilian Iraqis with whom we have no argument, the unseen innocent survivors of an eleven-year siege?
A lasting peace plan in Iraq would have to begin by addressing the immediate needs of the average Iraqi people — their access to potable water, their educational infrastructure, healthcare system, their agriculture and oil industries — as well as their access to interstate and international travel. Restrictions on travelling to and from Iraq must be amended so that a dialogue may begin between Iraqis and other cultures throughout the world, starting with study abroad and student exchange programmes.
In Iraq, doctors need vaccines, syringes with needles, X-ray film and blood bags. Teachers need books and pencils. Children need shoes and a happy childhood. Nursing mothers need proper nutrition to provide a healthy start for young lives. Iraqis need a wider array of food options and nutritional intake other than the lentils and rice available under the oil-for-food programme.
Iraq needs an infusion of currency, a way to pay its citizens who desire to work, achieve and fulfil the demands of providing for their families. Immediately, Iraq needs a plan to rebuild its infrastructure — the water and sewage treatment plants and electrical facilities so that air conditioning and ceiling fans function when the temperature is 140 degrees.
We must accept responsibility for the life-altering consequences of our policies on people who should not have been targeted.
The world community, led by the United Nations, must apologise formally and publicly to the families who have lost loved ones as a result of the sanctions and no-fly-zone bombing campaigns in the North and south of Iraq. We must offer our sincerest condolences for our complicity in the crimes that killed more than half a million children.
Unless we do this, the civilian Iraqis who are not the enemy will have every justification for taking every opportunity to avenge the egregious wrongs done against them.
Gandhi tells a story about a wise man meditating by a river. A scorpion in a tree repeatedly falls into the water, and the wise man rescues him each time. And each time, the scorpion stings him. Another man sees this drama played out several times and approaches the wise man, asking why he continues to save the scorpion and risk being stung every time? “It is his nature to sting,” says the wise man. “I am a human. It is my nature to save.”
Iraq needs no new war, no more bombs. They need simple human-to-human outreach. That is the right thing to do.
*Leah C. Wells serves as Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and travelled to Iraq last July with Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.