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November-December 2011

Vol. 36, No. 6


War in Iraq ends – for whom?

With millions of others, Maryknoll missioners have worked and prayed and fasted for peace. We have consistently supported alternatives to military action – and then to expanded military action – in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We celebrate the recent announcement of an end to the U.S. war in Iraq. But we do so with heavy hearts, for the repercussions and cost of that war are enormous and mounting; the war in Afghanistan continues; U.S. drones are attacking in a widening theater of war against terrorist activities; assassination seems to have replaced the rule of law for stopping criminal behavior; and U.S. foreign policy is increasingly militarized, with AFRICOM as a prime example.

On October 21, President Obama announced the end of the war, saying that the U.S. and Iraq would establish "a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect … With our diplomats and civilian advisors in the lead, we'll help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative and accountable. We'll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. …"

Phyllis Bennis, director of the Institute for Policy Studies' New Internationalism program, noted that the U.S. pressured Iraq for an agreement of immunity for U.S. troops that would have enabled them to stay beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline. But Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who is afraid his government "may fall" without the backing of U.S. troops, could not convince the Iraqi parliament, which is far more representative of the Iraqi people, to approve the extension. Political pressure on both Obama and al Maliki to end the war was significant. Bennis wrote, "[T]his is a huge victory for the anti-war movement, which has successfully transformed the discourse in this country from a very supportive population of this war to a population that now over 75 percent say this war is not worth fighting and the troops should be brought home immediately. That has been the case for some years now. And it has taken this long to transform that discourse change into policy change."

The war in Iraq was morally unacceptable from the beginning; we opposed it formally and repeatedly. Much of what we feared did come to pass:

  • The cost of war in terms of human life and suffering for the people of Iraq, for our own service people and their families, and for others involved in the conflict has been unconscionable. The cost for Iraqi refugees and, in particular, for those who are Christians or members of other minority groups has been exceedingly high.
  • War in Iraq destabilized the Middle East, causing more death and destruction in the region and increasing the threat of terrorist attacks throughout the world.
  • The ecological damage is tremendous.
  • The burden of war has been carried by the poorest and most vulnerable people as military expenditures steal funds from social programs in the U.S. and around the world.

When Maryknoll called for an end to the war, we also called for reparations. The U.S. should pay for reconstruction in Iraq, repairing damage caused by the invasion, occupation and years of U.S.-led sanctions. Reconstruction projects should not provide another windfall for U.S. firms, but rather jobs for Iraqi workers and companies.

Also, immediate and comprehensive attention is owed by the U.S. to the millions of Iraqis who are refugees or internally displaced. UN figures from January 2011 estimate approximately 1.34 million internally displaced persons and 1.68 million refugees. Since 2007, according to U.S. government statistics, 166,249 Iraqi nationals have been referred for resettlement to the U.S. 101,884 Iraqi refugee applicants have been interviewed; 84,435 approved for resettlement and 58,810 Iraqi refugees have arrived in the United States. Concerns about the deficit in the U.S. budget, national security interests and immigration fears and bottlenecks cannot be used as an excuse to avoid this serious responsibility.

In his announcement, the president continued, "And finally, I would note that the end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition. The tide of war is receding. The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus our fight against al Qaeda and achieve major victories against its leadership ... Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we're beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan … Meanwhile, yesterday marked the definitive end of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. And there, too, our military played a critical role in shaping a situation on the ground in which the Libyan people can build their own future."

We hope so, but at the heart of our concern is a deep skepticism that the U.S. will ever build its foreign policy around a commitment to the global common good and an unwavering belief in the worth and dignity in the eyes of God of each person, including Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi, and the children of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

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