Over the past several weeks, Iraqis have been protesting in the streets. More than 100 people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded. The protesters’ demands are basic: They want jobs, improved services such as education, water and electricity, and an end to corruption.
There are many reasons why these conditions are lacking in Iraq. But the role of the U.S. cannot be ignored. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent military occupation led to the dismantling of much of Iraqi society.
U.S. military actions stirred up tensions between ethnic and religious groups. Infrastructure was destroyed. Government institutions were dismantled without meaningful alternatives put in place. When the U.S. officially withdrew its troops in 2011, these problems did not go away. (U.S. troops returned in 2014 at the invitation of the Iraqi government to fight ISIS. An estimated 5,000 remain.)
The best way forward for Iraq must be determined by Iraqis. But there are things that the U.S. can do to support these efforts, rather than undermine them. They include:
- Repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was passed by Congress in 2002, in the lead-up to the Iraq war. The authorization remains in force and has been cited by both the Obama and Trump administrations to justify continued military involvement in Iraq. The House version of the defense authorization bill repeals this authorization, but the Senate version does not. The differences between the two bills are currently being negotiated.
- Continue to fund humanitarian assistance for Iraq. The United Nations reports that 7 million Iraqis are in need of humanitarian assistance. The U.S. must continue to provide humanitarian assistance, along with funding for recovery and reconstruction.
- Ensure assistance goes to the most vulnerable. This is a basic tenet of humanitarian assistance around the globe. But the U.S. has pushed hard to direct assistance in northern Iraq on the basis of religious or ethnic identity with a focus on minorities, particularly Christians and Yezidis. While these groups have suffered greatly from recent conflicts in Iraq and are often the most vulnerable, targeting on the basis of religious identity rather than need undermines the impartial distribution of aid, which is crucial in order to build trust in communities already experiencing tensions between ethnic and religious groups.
Within Iraq, Mennonite Central Committee works with Christian organizations and others to provide assistance to those in need. This includes support for income generation projects such as beekeeping and raising chickens and peacebuilding efforts to reduce tensions within communities.