Luke Wilcox is Development and Communications Director with the Iraq American Reconciliation Project (IARP).
For the last 5 weeks, I’ve lived and worked with the Muslim Peacemaker Teams and my host, Sami Rasouli. Tomorrow I fly back to Minneapolis.
It has been an eye-opening and life-changing experience. The many Iraqis that I’ve met have invariably been welcoming, generous, and kind. This despite the fact that the illegal U.S. occupation of Iraq continues, and despite the death and destruction that my country has brought to theirs.
My visit was very different than the “visit” of most Americans. I came to Iraq as an unarmed guest seeking to build respectful relationships between people. My American counterparts in military uniforms came to Iraq armed to the teeth, seeking to storm the country into submission.
American soldiers are still here and Iraq is still an occupied, “war-torn” country. When Sami and I visited Baghdad, he said, “Look what’s happened to this city. It was such a beautiful place when I visited it growing up.” Now buildings are destroyed or riddled with bullet holes. Concrete walls and military checkpoints divide neighborhoods. Garbage and rubble are everywhere and roads are in disrepair.
Among the most frustrating effects of the war and U.S. occupation are the lack of electricity, which comes and goes every couple of hours, and the lack of clean water. The American occupiers and the Iraqi government have not yet been able to restore basic services.
Despite the death and destruction of the war (at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, perhaps more than 1 million), daily life continues and Iraqis are working hard to rebuild. In the English class that I helped teach, Sami and I taught the word “resilience” to our students. It was ironic that we were the teachers.
As Iraqis work to end the occupation and begin to rebuild, Sami and MPT are doing critical work to help ensure that what is rebuilt is a peaceful, nonviolent civil society. The sectarianism and violence that the U.S. invasion created is not historically part of Iraqi society. MPT witnesses to the peace and brotherhood that is.
Besides providing critical humanitarian aid such as clean water and medical care, MPT members put themselves in the way of war, violence, and sectarianism. For example, when Fallujah, a predominantly Sunni town, was bombed and destroyed by American forces, MPT members traveled from Najaf, a Shia town, to Fallujah to help clean up the streets and stand in solidarity with its residents. MPT members in Fallujah sent 400 bottles with messages of peace written by high school students down the Euphrates river to Najaf.
Spending a month with Sami and MPT members also taught me about the difficulties of operating as an independent, non-governmental organization in Iraq. There is little financial support available. For my month in Iraq, I set $2500 as a goal to raise for MPT. Currently I’m at $1000 and have only 1 day left to reach the goal. If you can, please consider making a financial contribution to MPT and/or spreading the word to help us reach $2500. Financial support is, in my opinion, an important way for Americans to support Iraqis rebuilding their society and country. The link to donate is http://givemn.razoo.com/story/Mpt.
I will also be speaking about my trip at a number of events in Minnesota in the coming weeks. One event is on Thursday, August 4 at 7:00 pm at St. Joan of Arc Church, 4537 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis. The Facebook event page is here. Would love to see you there.