MINNEAPOLIS (Dec. 1, 2011) — As the US prepares to withdraw its military from Iraq by the end of 2011, Americans must strengthen and expand their civilian engagement with Iraq.
While the war has cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives, its effect on Iraq has been even greater. Iraq remains devastated by the violence and displacement of the last eight and a half years.
“We need the American people to join directly with the Iraqi people to help us,” said Dr. Mahdi Al-Faraaon, part of an October medical delegation to Minnesota from Minneapolis’ Sister City of Najaf, Iraq. The medical delegation was organized by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP), a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis that has hosted several delegations of Iraqi professionals in Minneapolis over the last few years.
Kathy McKay, Executive Director of IARP, says, “Many of Iraq’s professional citizens have been killed or forced to flee as refugees over the last two decades–during the 1991 Gulf War, subsequent 13 years of economic sanctions, and present war. The professionals who visited Minneapolis as part of Sister City exchanges in 2009, 2010, and 2011 emphasized that they are not looking for hand-outs, but rather partnerships to help in the rebuilding of their nation.” In March, 2012, a delegation from the Twin Cities plans to travel to Najaf at the invitation of the Governor of the Province.
Luke Wilcox, IARP’s Development and Communications Director, spent 5 weeks in Iraq this summer (none of which was inside the Green Zone or on a military base) with IARP’s partner organization, the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT). He says, “Most people I talked to in Iraq wanted the American military to leave, but not American professionals or citizens. They asked, ‘you’ve broken our country, now what are you going to do to help us fix it?’ They want partnership, not isolation and not hand-outs.”
As of March, 2011, 7.6 million Iraqis lacked access to safe drinking water. Electricity comes and goes every few hours; some areas have just 4-6 hours of electricity per day. At least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the violence since 2003, and at least 80,000 have lost limbs. Seventy percent of Iraqi children suffer from trauma-related symptoms.
Since its founding in 2005, IARP has promoted reconciliation between the people of Iraq and America through art, education, health, and cultural exchange programs. Along with its partner organization, the Muslim Peacemaker Teams, IARP has organized delegations of Iraqi professionals, academics, artists, and government officials; installed clean water systems at 68 schools in Iraq (providing clean water to over 28,000 students); hosted numerous exhibits of Iraqi and American art in Minnesota; and supported other projects that promote healing from war.