Impressions of Iraq

by Manna Jo Greene

As a life-long environmentalist I've spent years helping people to understand the importance and the practicality of transitioning from our current dependence on fossil fuel and nuclear power to energy efficiency and clean, renewable, locally abundant and sustainable sources of energy such as solar, wind and geothermal heating and cooling systems. In the last few days of December, 2002, as I pondered the preposterous absurdity of spending up to $200 billion on massive destruction in a possible war in Iraq, something inside of me snapped. Thinking how far $200 billion would go toward energy independence, education and universal health care, I responded to email asking me to join the "Human Shields."

Desperate to take an action that would be effective in preventing the impending war, I signed a pledge that said that I would go to Iraq if 5,000 other Americans would also go. Well, 5,000 Americans didn't sign up, and I quickly realized that my body wouldn't stop bombs or bullets. I decided to go anyway with an organization called Voices in the Wilderness Iraq Peace Team, which had six year's experience bringing hundreds of peace delegates, including Nobel Peace laureates and US congressional delegations, safely in and out of Iraq.

By the end of January, I and two other Hudson Valley Women, Michele Riddell and Lorna Tychostup of New Paltz, had passed Voices' rigorous screening process, and were oriented to our trip. With widespread media coverage and a series of fundraisers, we raised over $11,000 in generous donations from the people of the Hudson Valley who supported our desire to bring a message of peace and friendship to the people of Iraq, and to bring back the faces, hopes and dreams of the Iraqi people.

Aware that we were ignoring a travel ban that could cost us up to $1 million in fines or 12 years imprisonment, and in spite of the concerns for our safety by our family and friends, on Saturday, February 8 we boarded a plane from JFK to Amman, Jordan. In Amman, a friendly hotel crew and seven other members of the Iraq Peace Team greeted us. After three trips to the Iraq Embassy in Amman, we received our visas and set off early the next morning for Baghdad, crossing 500 miles of barren, rocky desert.

In Baghdad we were greeted with surprising warmth and gracious hospitality. For the week I was there, I experienced no hostility toward me as an American: none, zero, zilch. This was quite remarkable when you consider that the US was about to attack Iraq. There's no question that Saddam Hussein has repeatedly participated in torture and despotic rule. I do not, and never have, defended him or his regime, but regime change is not a justification for war, especially if that country does not pose a "grave and imminent threat" to the United States. By international law, nations are required to exhaust all non- violent, non-military means before resorting to war. We certainly did not do that in this case.

I was also amazed to find that political opinions of the Iraqi people varied as much as ours do here in the US -- from genuine respect for their President and his regime to the cab driver who told me in no uncertain terms that "there can be no peace without democracy." However, most Iraqis thought both leaders had gone mad, theirs and ours, and no one wanted US occupation.

While in Iraq we participated in daily prayer vigils in front of the headquarters of the UN weapons inspectors. One day an inspector pulled over and thanked us for being there, saying, "It really helps our morale to know that people support the inspection process." Because it was the Islamic holiday of Eid, and there were more than 500 internationals in Iraq, I never saw a government "minder" the entire time I was in Iraq. I did contact a government official through written correspondence to obtain permission to install a Peace Pole from the World Peace Sanctuary in Amenia, NY, in the courtyard of the UN Development Program in Baghdad. A few days later, I got word that permission had been granted.

Now that I'm back in the US and war has started, I deeply mourn all the losses -- ours, theirs and those yet to come -- the horrendous loss of life, the destruction of infrastructure and the inevitable devastation of ancient historic resources what is truly the cradle of human civilization.

With war abroad and the potential for increasing repression at home, our democracy is seriously endangered. The Homeland Security Patriot Acts (with Patriot II pending) threaten the very freedoms that the founders of our nation envisioned and institutionalized in the Constitution. The sinister Project for a New American Century/Rebuilding America's Defenses replaces defense with offense, in an unprecedented plan for unilateral world domination.

The Golden Rule asks us to put ourselves in the other's position. For my compassion, I have been verbally attacked and accused of being unpatriotic and worse; however, I have never felt more patriotic in my life. I pledge the flag with a new fervor as I remember that "when in the course of human events_" dissent becomes necessary, it's the responsibility of an informed citizenry to speak out. This is the check and balance that keeps America on track.

I believe that out of these flames a phoenix will rise. Americans have freedom and democracy deep in our DNA and we will not allow this to be taken from us. I want to live in an America that leads by power of example, not one that rules the world by military might and controls its own people by fear.

Humans have developed two very advanced technologies: powerful military force and the ability to solve problems through conflict resolution, mediation and collaboration. We are currently undergoing an unprecedented evolution of human consciousness. Millions of people are profoundly questioning the use of violence as a means to solve personal, community-wide or international problems.

In my work, I've had the privilege of facilitating successful collaborations amongst people who initially saw each other as mortal enemies. I've discovered that collaborative solutions developed by people with diverse values and positions are inevitably far superior to those formulated by people who all agree with each other. When people of goodwill focus on creating fact-based solutions, and taking personal responsibility rather than blaming others, miracles can happen.

May Peace Prevail.

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