Last month, for the first time, the Iraqi-Canadian community came together to organize a week of action in Toronto to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. rabbletv covered this historic occasion and interviewed the keynote speaker, American-Iraqi peace activist Dr. Dahlia Wasfi.
Dahlia Wasfi left her medical career in 2002 and became a full-time activist and speaker calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. She uses personal stories and hard-hitting analysis of the conditions faced by Iraqis combined with a passionate and often highly comedic delivery to put a human face on the conflict. In her powerful oratory, she is a blend of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X or maybe Karl Marx and Groucho Marx, as one commentator on an Internet message board put it. In April 2006, she appeared before the Democratic progressive caucus's congressional forum on Iraq.
As the daughter of an Iraqi Muslim father originally from Basra, Iraq and an American Jewish mother from New York City, she says both sides of her family have faced genocide. First, her Ashkenazi Jewish grandparents fled the Nazis in Vienna in the 1930s. Now the Iraqi side of her family is facing genocide as a result of the U.S. attack and occupation of Iraq.
She describes the situation of her relatives on her father's side: "[They] are not living, but dying, under the occupation of this [Bush] administration's deadly foray in Iraq. From the lack of security to the lack of basic supplies to the lack of electricity to the lack of potable water to the lack of jobs to the lack of reconstruction to the lack of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they are much worse off now than before we invaded. 'Never again' should apply to them, too."
"I have the credibility," Wasfi says, "to come forward and I'm willing to risk the false label of anti-Semitism to condemn the policies of the United States and Israel and its continued oppression of the Arab world."
In the rabbletv interview, Dahlia Wasfi confronts the complacency and fatigue that characterizes the reporting of the war in mainstream media. In a country that worships its military, the U.S. corporate media has failed to acknowledge the concerns of returning war veterans. There was a complete blackout, in mainstream U.S. media, of the recent Winter Soldier testimonies, which ran March 13-16 in Silver Spring, Maryland. U.S. veterans who served in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan testified to give an accurate account of what is really happening on a daily basis on the ground in these countries. rabbletv broadcast independent media coverage of these testimonies by DemocracyNow! and The Real News.
Wasfi strongly supports the stance of Iraq Veterans Against the War, the group that organized the Winter Soldier testimonies. "They call for just three things: bring the troops home immediately, take care of the troops when they get here, and pay reparations to the Iraqi people. And I think that is an important stand because they know the ground truth. They witnessed the horrors of the reality of the occupation and they're recognizing that we have to make up for what has been done by us and in our name."
In her presentation she exposed as a myth âe" one encouraged by much of the mainstream media âe" the notion that U.S. forces need to remain in Iraq to quell the civil war. Wasfi argues that the occupation is actually driving the sectarian strife. The U.S. military machine has instigated sectarian warfare in Iraq, invoking the "Salvador Option." American Special Forces, she says, are using many of the same tactics that were previously used in the "dirty wars" of Latin America, including the recruitment and training of Iraqi death squads.
For decades Iraqi society was secular and many people are of mixed background. For example, Wasfi's grandfather was Shia, and her grandmother was Sunni and from the north of Iraq, "So she also had some Kurdish blood."
"There has never been a war between Sunni and Shia in the region of modern day Iraq since the sects were established 1400 years ago," says, "and the violence will dramatically fall once U.S. troops leave." For example, she notes, "2.5 million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries, and they didn't bring violence with them. The violence is centred in Iraq where the CIA, U.S. forces and Mossad [the Israeli intelligence agency] are fomenting it. The same people who are telling us that it's a civil war are the same people who told us that Saddam had WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda."
The present conflict in Iraq reminds Wasfi of a joke her father told her of Britain's earlier colonial strategy, "If you see two fish fighting in the sea, look around for the British guy who started it." It's the strategy of divide and conquer.
Wasfi says, however, that Iraqis are literally fighting over life and death issues and will continue to resist on multiple fronts: economic, military, and political. She likes to quote Malcolm X on the best place to look for the truth: "Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. You don't need anything else."
When U.S. administrator Paul Bremer showed up in Baghdad, the U.S. violated the Geneva Convention by changing the government it was occupying. Bremer set forth, eliminating most of the rules of the last regime. But, Wasfi notes, "There were a few they held onto and one of them was a ban on unions."
In spite of the limitations and the repression by the government, oil workers, electricians, and public workers formed unions. "And what they seek to do is defend the country's resources and prevent the economic occupation that they know we have planned after the military occupation ends." There is international solidarity for Iraqi unions, Wasfi says, citing the example of U.S. Labor Against the War. "There is a lot of solidarity because it is the working class in both countries that is being decimated by this continued illegal occupation."
When it comes to Iraqi military resistance against the invasion and occupation, the American peace movement has been hesitant in vocalizing its support. Wasfi says that she knows peace groups "are all on the same wavelength in terms of ending the brutality," but she sometimes puts the peace movement in quotes for failing to recognize the legitimacy of the military resistance in Iraq.
"It's incredibly frustrating for me when individuals say 'well, we're not going to defend the resistance in Iraq. It's different than it was in Vietnam.' How so? You have people who were attacked. We [the U.S.] are in blatant violation of international law and they [the Iraqi resistance] are kicking out the illegal invaders." Wasfi argues that the best way to address this is for the peace movement to have stronger connections with Iraqi activists.