Iraq panel addresses American occupation

By Janine Kranz

The U.S. decision to occupy Iraq came under fire by academics Wednesday night when a panel provided contrasting views about the effects and possible outcomes of the war and occupation. The heavily-attended discussion consisted of five speakers with different views on the occupation, and included noted political science professor John Mearsheimer.

The panel, held in a Kent lecture hall, was sponsored by Action Toward Peace and Students Organized for United Labor.

Mearsheimer, the author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, was the first speaker. He focused on the Bush administration’s failure to consider how to create a working government in Iraq and get out of the country.

According to Mearsheimer, Bush ignored ethnic and religious divisions in Iraq as well as the strong sense of Iraqi nationalism. As a result, Iraq now looks like the Wild West and Mearsheimer fears that it is only a matter of time before these forces lead to an Iraqi civil war.

“The quick conquering of Iraq left most Americans pounding their chests in triumph,” Mearsheimer said. “They didn’t think about afterwards. The U.S. will be there for a long time.”

Following Mearsheimer was Clarence Thomas, a member of the executive board of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in San Francisco and a co-author of Eye Witness to Labor in Iraq. He discussed labor conditions in the two nations.

“The Bush administration has used the grief of 9/11 to attack both civil and labor liberties,” Thomas said, adding that it is “during times of war that the most fascist activity takes place.”

After a speech about the decrease in workers’ rights in the U.S., Thomas addressed the problems he witnessed among the Iraqi workers. The main problem they faced, he said, is that the laws concerning labor organization that Saddam Hussein created are still being enforced. The Bush administration is trying to leave Iraq “open for U.S. corporations.”

Thomas ended his speech with a call for a march on all U.S. capitals, including Washington D.C., to show that workers will not stand for the treatment labor is receiving at home and abroad.

The next speaker was Scott Portman, a representative of the Kovler center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture. He worked in Iraq last fall and, unlike the other speakers, Portman said the U.S. should perhaps have gone to war with Iraq long before 9/11.

He emphasized that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Kurds were killed or tortured under Hussein’s rule. “The country has been victimized to its core,” Portman said.

Like Mearsheimer, Portman said that the Bush administration did not take into account the full implications of ethnic, religious, and tribal divisions within Iraq when they went to war. However, Portman’s view of Iraq’s future was not as bleak as Mearsheimer’s. Portman expressed hope in the success of a “multilateral, international” approach.

“The U.S. can’t do it alone and shouldn’t do it alone,” he said.

Yaser Tabbara of the U.S. government-funded Iraqi Constitutional Law Project at the International Human Rights Law Institute of DePaul University, spoke fourth. Tabbara’s project involves rebuilding the legal education system in Iraq. In addition to working on schools’ infrastructure and curriculum, the project will also introduce clinical education in which Iraqi students will work in public service as part of their legal training.

“The legal education system in Iraq has been very repressed,” Tabbara said. “It has been hard to introduce new reforms into the system, but cooperation between Iraqis and Iraqi Americans has helped the situation.”

Tabbara, who returned from Baghdad last Thursday, was able to provide firsthand accounts of the current situation in Iraq. Tabbara was optimistic about what he found in Baghdad. “People were going about their daily lives,” he said. “Iraqis are very hopeful people.”

The last speaker was Ray Hanania, a journalist and stand-up comedian. Between jokes about Bush and the Fox News Channel, Hanania discussed the important role that journalism has played in the war in Iraq.

“The problem isn’t the end result, but the process,” he said. “The process is journalism.”

In a country where “perception is reality,” Hanania shared his disgust about the “embedded journalists” who he says have only been reporting what the government tells them to.

“Whenever I see a Democrat on T.V., I fall asleep,” he said. “At least Bush is funny.”