Sunday morning, December 18, 2011, the last U.S. troops left Iraq. Almost nine years of war have come to an end. And while the milestone was marked in the media, there was not the rejoicing in the streets that one might expect after such a contentious conflict. Rather, it seemed that the nation had already moved on and the economy, not the war, was at the center of our concern.
We here at NETWORK thought that it was important to acknowledge this momentous event with a brief retrospective on our Iraq work.
- December 2002, NETWORK’s National Coordinator, Kathy Thornton, SSS, and future Executive Director Simone Campbell, SSS, went to Iraq on a peace delegation. They visited Baghdad and Basra, returning with powerful stories and a strengthened commitment to oppose the invasion of Iraq.
- Winter 2003, NETWORK lobbied against the pending war and participated with many others to try to stop the folly.
- March 2006, NETWORK sponsored a delegation of Iraqi women to tell the stories of women and children in the conflict. It was the story of ordinary people that was being lost in the violence and military tactics.
- January 2008, NEWORK’s Executive Director Simone Campbell, SSS, went on a Catholic Relief Services delegation to Syria and Lebanon to see the Iraqi refugee situation. After returning, NETWORK led a Hill briefing and lobby activities to improve the entrance of Iraqi refugees into the United States.
Today, NETWORK continues to lobby actively on issues affecting refugees and internally displace Iraqis. We are working to provide protection for these vulnerable populations.
In the midst of the conflict, NETWORK made connections with ordinary Iraqis. We did not have a military policy of “out now” because our Iraqi colleagues feared what would happen if the United States left precipitously. We worked with Iraqis to try to create a policy of effective development. We promoted programs that actually engaged Iraqis in development and were rooted in local needs assessments.
Now that the military conflict is over, the United States has a continuing obligation to the people of Iraq. It will be important to continue working with refugees and the internally displaced to ensure that they have a safe and secure environment in which to live. It will also be important to work with the Iraqi government to encourage the formation of a stable and just society. Private contractors are expected to provide much of the service to Iraqis from the U.S. Embassy. While they will be under the supervision of the State Department (and not the Department of Defense), U.S. civil society must monitor their performance and ensure that they are in fact support the goals of a peaceful, stable Iraq.
Additionally, the United States has an obligation to its veterans who served in Iraq. We must ensure that they receive needed medical and other services that they and their families need in their time of transition. Our opposition to the conflict should not translate into opposition to the military personnel.
Finally, we need to stay vigilant to prevent new forays into wars of aggression. There was no justification for the U.S. invading Iraq. We, as a people, must ensure that we are not aggressors again. Only by significant engagement with government and by carefully casting our election ballots can we create a world where hubris will not lead us down such a destructive path.