For 20 years, Iraqi American Sami Rasouli lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a peace activist and restaurant owner. He visited Iraq in 2004, and decided to move home and help rebuild his country. He sold his restaurant and returned to Najaf, where he founded the Muslim Peacemakers Team. Fight Back! interviewed him during his three-month U.S. speaking tour about the reality of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Fight Back!: What conditions are Iraqi people living under? How have things changed under occupation?
Sami Rasouli: In Iraq, there is none of the progress that the U.S. administration and mainstream media propagate. After three years of promises, Iraqis haven’t seen it. Life under Saddam Hussein was not perfect. But life now is unbearable. It’s more difficult and the situation is getting worse. The Iraqis want progress in three fields.
First, security. 40 to 60 Iraqis get killed every day. The U.S. fails according to international law to provide security for the land of Iraq, and for Iraqis’ lives. The U.S. trained almost 300,000 Iraqi security police and military personnel, besides the U.S. troops estimated at 130,000. But still we see death squads roaming the streets. There is no security. The foreign countries donated $18 billion to reconstruct Iraq. Two-thirds of this money went to security, but the country is still lawless; the country is still broken; the country is no country anymore.
The second field of ‘progress’ is the economy. The economy in Iraq today is completely destroyed. Before 1991, an Iraqi dinar was worth $3. Now, one U.S. dollar is equivalent to 1500 dinars. This is a 4500% inflation rate.
There are no production facilities in Iraq. There is no Iraqi national investing in Iraq. We see foreign investors who backed the war and supported the occupation. The occupation has mobilized a fever to privatize the country, its wealth to be sold out to foreigners. It’s destroying the Iraqi economy. The most devastating economic reality is the unemployment rate of 60 to 70%.
The third field of progress is infrastructure, which was completely destroyed by the first Gulf War in 1991. The previous regime restored 65% of the public services, but failed to complete the job due to thirteen years of harsh economic sanctions before the aggression in 2003. Iraqis in Baghdad were getting 16 hours per day of electricity while Saddam was in power, before the war. Today they get 3.7 hours of intermittent electric power.
The previous regime provided clean drinking water, by 70% restored capacity service of the water treatment plant. Now in Sadr City, which is a part of Baghdad populated by close to 3 million, people are infected by hepatitis A, hepatitis B or typhus from polluted drinking water.
Main transportation routes that connect cities in Iraq are mainly controlled by U.S. military patrols and checkpoints, with many of them sealed off altogether. For an average Iraqi traveler, highways are a killing field, so they avoid them. Inner city routes are also blocked by hundreds of checkpoints, peppered by U.S. and Iraqi newly formed forces.
To sum it up, Iraq today is a mess. It’s a big mess.
Fight Back!: U.S. officials and media say that sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites justifies the continued occupation. What do you think?
Sami Rasouli: This is a big lie. The administration well knows that their occupation in Iraq divided the people of Iraq - pro and against the occupation. The people who support the occupation are the profiteers and the ex-patriots that accompanied the U.S. invasion. It looks like they struck a deal - we occupy your country and allow you to rule the country. And you ask for our presence, so we stay and protect you and protect our interests.
Upon assuming his post, the previous U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, announced de-Ba’athification and the disbanding of the army. These led to infighting, which is backed by some current Iraqi government officials. For 35 years, under the previous regime, 95% of Iraqis became Ba’athists, whether willingly or by force. To call for de-Ba’athification was an open invitation to all Iraqi factions to fight each other.
Those who backed the call for de-Ba’athification took the side of the U.S. occupation, while the majority of Iraqis opposed the occupation. Some chose to be violent in their opposition, so they formed the Iraqi national resistance. Others oppose the occupation peacefully, but support the underground resistance army.
There is no sectarian war. Iraqis have lived together for centuries. The U.S. administration, by its occupation forces, tries to apply the old rotten British colonial concept of divide and conquer. It hasn’t worked for the last three years, and will not work. This strategy is failing and will never succeed in Iraq. Bush and his failing military operation in Iraq will not last.
Fight Back!: After speaking at more than 100 meetings and protests, you are heading back to Iraq. What have you accomplished in the U.S.? How will your work continue in Iraq?
Sami Rasouli: It was very important to share reports from Iraq with average American people, hungry for information from an unembedded source. People are tired of hearing the administration say it is accomplishing progress, which is not there in Iraq. President Bush promises to improve the situation in Iraq by forming a new permanent Iraqi government, but still he fails to address the security question in Iraq and he fails to talk about reducing U.S. forces in Iraq. In my view, the U.S. must pull out all troops immediately, to secure the land of Iraq and the lives of millions of Iraqis.
The U.S. occupation in Iraq is a form of war and this war should be ended. No matter how many elections take place, how many constitutions are written, how many governments are formed, as long as occupation continues, there is a resistance to counter the occupation. There will be no stability, no peace, no progress. Because the government that just formed is part of the occupation, it’s a puppet government, not a free government. The Iraqi people reject this collaboration between the government and the occupation.
In Iraq, I will maintain the bridge that I helped create by founding the Muslim Peacemaker Teams that work with the Christian Peacemaker Teams and other vital organizations of the anti-war movement in the U.S. and Iraq. I will carry messages of support from U.S. people who oppose the war.
When I get to Iraq, I will be the U.S. population’s ears and eyes. I’ll be reporting from there, and sharing the stories that I witness. These activities will support the international goal of peace.