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A Wounded Love Of Country (Post, Mar. 23)
Bush, Blair Seek Accord on Postwar Iraq (Post, April 8)
War in Iraq Special Report
War in Iraq Discussion Transcripts
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Live Online Transcripts

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War in Iraq
With Andy Shallal
Founder, Mesopotamia Cultural Society and Peace Cafe

Thursday, April 10, 2003; 10 a.m. ET

As U.S. forces have entered Baghdad, talks of post-war reconstruction have started between the Bush administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Will Iraq's people have a democratic government? What is the role of Iraqi Americans and expatriates in a new Iraq?

Andy Shallal, Iraqi dissident, peace fellow and of the Iraqi Americans for Peaceful Alternatives (IAPA), will be online Thursday, April 10, at 10 a.m. ET, to discuss expatriates and the role of Iraqi Americans in rebuilding Iraq.

Shallal is also featured in A Wounded Love Of Country (Post, Mar. 23).

Below is the transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Arlington, Va.: I recently read an article by an Iraqi American who was in favor of the war. In his article he said to the anti-war protesters, "If you don't want the US to go to war, that is fine. However, don't be so arrogant as to claim you speak for the Iraqi people." If I were an Iraqi American, I too would be insulted by the audacity of European and American protesters to claim they knew what was best for Iraq. Haven't the anti-war protesters been arrogant and imperialist themselves in this way?

Andy Shallal: I feel that most Iraqis are opposed to the invasion - HOWEVER - most Iraqis are also opposed to Saddam Hussein's regime. There were many alternatives to an all out invasion. This invasion has caused the death of nearly 1500 Iraqi civilians (on the low end) and according to the Red Cross -"Countless" number of injuries. The outcome of this invasion is still open - we are seeing celebrations overlayed with looting which is usually a precursor to anarchy and civil unrest which can claim the lives of many more thousands of innocents.

San Diego, Calif.: Mr. Shallal, it is an honor to have you with us today. Thank you for taking our questions. The fallen Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was known for its great hostility to Israel. Do you think that a new Iraqi regime can coexist and make peace with the Jewish state?

Andy Shallal: The Israel question is a big one and one that looms large in the Arab populace mind. I do believe that the US needs to work hard to bring about some kind of a resolution to the Palestinian question. So far however, the appointment of Jay Garner is not very promising particularly due to his strong connections to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. The Iraqis and the Arab world will see this as an affront to any fair resolution to the problem

Washington, D.C.: Thank you in advance for taking my question:

I feel that now that we have "won" the war, the U.S. should only be in Iraq for peacekeeping and security forces. Also, instead of American companies profiting from the rebuilding of Iraq, local companies should be established to take care of these tasks.

What do you think about an American general running Iraq in the postwar period? Furthermore, what do you think about American companies being involved in the reconstruction process?

Andy Shallal: this whole notion of the US and Britain not wanting to share in the rebuilding reeks of imperialist intentions - the most important rebuilding aside from the immediate humanitarian needs - is that of democratic institutions. We should be as inclusive as possible and particularly in including Arab countries in the process

Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Wouldn't Iraqis be naturally suspicious if not outright contemptuous of ex-pat Iraqis showing up back home ready to run everything after all the heavy lifting had been done - by the Iraqi people and coalition forces? I know I would. Ex-pat Iraqis might be viewed as the opportunists who fled the country with the loot and now are returning in imperial style to start a new tyranny - this time by the rich. That's how I would look at them. Your comments, please? Thanks much. HLB

Andy Shallal: The pentagon is promoting Ahmed Chalabi as the new leader of Iraq. According to the CIA and Iraqis he has very little backing in Iraq - He was airlifted into southern Iraq soon after invasion forces saw it safe for him to be there. His past is laced with shady bank dealings which have netted him 31 felony counts in Jordan and was sentenced (in absentia) for 22 years in jail. Not a pretty picture. The Iraqis deserve better.

Wheaton, Md.: Congratulations on your liberation! Will the new Iraq be willing to make peace and establish normal relations with Israel?

Andy Shallal: several questions on Israel - it is important to understand that Iraq signed on to the Saudi proposal floated by Crown Prince Abdallah which promoted a 2 state solution -

Glenmont, Md.: Is this now a turning point for the Kurds who have lived under brutal arab occupation? Will Kurdistan now be independent?

Andy Shallal: This does not seem likely - Turkey has made it abundantly clear that this will not be acceptable to them.

Harrisburg, Pa.: I feel sorry for many Iraqi Americans. Many fled the brutality of Iraq to come to America only to be treated suspiciously as supporters of the regime from which they had escaped. How do people cope with this ignorance and, on the other hand, is there some understanding that there are some legitimate fears that there might be Iraqis in America sent by the Saddam Hussein government and thus there is a need for caution within our country?

Andy Shallal: A reporter once asked me about sleeper cells in the US - I asked her to write about American sleeper cells in which our civil rights are eroding while we are asleep.

Iraqi Americans are being questioned by the FBI and other security agencies. There is certainly fear from such tactics. Some Congressmen have suggested internment camps as an option (Coble -NC).

Iraqi Americans love the US and are some of the most educated and productive citizens.

Bethesda, Md.: What form of government do you see ideally for a liberated Iraq?

How long do you think the Americans need to stay to assure law and order without appearing as an occupying force?

Who do you see as the most likely new leader for the Iraqi people?

Andy Shallal: I would like to see a government of the people by the people and for the people of Iraq. The Iraqi people are very resourceful and are able to determine their own fate.

Suspicion will replace celebration very quickly -

Washington, D. C.: Which news organization that you have seen do you feel has reported war events most objectively?

Andy Shallal: This is a very sore subject. One needs to find news from a variety of sources. I watch CNN and read Al Jazeera and other web sites such as CounterPunch and Znet Washington post etc.

The BBC is also a great source of news during this period - however I feel that their objectivity was compromised during this crisis.

I am shocked at how little protest there is regarding the targeting of reporters by US military - I spoke with a reporter from Baghdad who was at the journalists' hotel when a US tank shelled the building - he said that there was absolutely no gunfire coming from the direction of the hotel (as was claimed by the military).

The glorified and sanitized reporting of the mainstream media is doing a little to promote democratic principles in this country - having reporters imbedded with the troops and having generals imbedded as advisors to the network news is also eroding accuracy and fairness in reporting.

Bethesda, Md.: You say there would have been a better way. How could Saddam been overthrown without force? It's been 25 years of oppression, what does he acknowledge or respond to other than force?

By the way, thanks for your time and willingness to show us what the Iraqi view is.

Andy Shallal: There were several options -

continued pressure to disarm was the right thing to do - UN inspectors were on the right track -

We can see from the outcome of this war that the whole notion of why we went into this war in the first place - namely the WMD has become a moot issue.

We came in with smoking guns looking for the smoking gun we never found.

Saddam did not become the "butcher of Baghdad" without our support and complacency - He was our buddy in the 80's and we continued to support him even after he gassed the Kurds in 1988 - an attempt was made to sanction him at that time but the Reagan administration blocked it. We still needed him.

We would have liked to see a more holistic approach - a war crimes tribunal for instance - we would have put Saddam on notice and allowed the whole world community to take a part in exposing his brutality. It would have rallied world opinion behind our cause...

I feel that our approach to this problem has created a great deal of diplomatic and legal problems for the US - the use of preemption as a form of conflict resolution sets a dangerous course for conducting world affairs (even more complex now that we see Iraq did not have WMD)

washingtonpost.com: Mr. Shallal, there has been media footage of Iraqi Americans celebrating in Dearborn, Michigan. What has been the local reaction in Washington, D.C.?

Andy Shallal: tepid - most Iraqi americans are taking a wait and see attitude to this issue. the toppling of the statue is important but belies the scenes behind the celebration - the looting - the pockets of shooting - and soon to come revenge and score settling.

I believe that the Iraqi people are genuinely relieved - they are happy to see the ending of brutal dictatorship coupled with 12 years of sanctions that have rendered an otherwise prosperous nation into deep poverty.

Of course no one wants to see an occupying force on Iraqi streets - we are hoping that this too will pass and we can allow the Iraqi people to go on with their lives.

Washington, D.C.: I realize that this is probably a stupid question, but are there Iraqi/Kurdish Americans? What is their perspective on the the hostilities, and do they differ from Iraqi-Americans proper?

Andy Shallal: the Kurds have suffered greatly under Saddams regime - they, as most Iraqis feel are happy to see Saddam go. However, they have enjoyed relative autonomy for the last 12 years and have established self governance with the oversight of the US.

They are somewhat cautious in their optimism - there are many unanswered questions for them - what will the role of turkey be? will they get independence? is the new Iraqi government going to address the needs of the Kurds? What role will the kurds have in the new government? etc.

They do not trust or want Ahmed Chalabi to be Iraq's new leader - in 1996 he led an attempt at ousting Saddam by setting up an incursion force from the north - which ended up with a crackdown by Saddam's forces.

Vienna, Va.: Mr. Shallal, are you not happy to see a liberated Iraq. I understand that it will take time for the Iraqi people to rebuild and trust the U.S. But you seem too disapproving. Anything positive that you can say about the liberation of Iraq?

Andy Shallal: I do not believe that the US entered Iraq with the sole intention of liberation. In fact according to resolution 1441 (which is the pretext under which we invaded Iraq) - there is no mention of liberation. Rather it spoke clearly about WMD.

I find it disingenuous to assume that our involvement in Iraq has nothing to do with oil (this was reiterated by several top administration officials) and has everything to do with liberation. If McDonald's invaded Idaho - no one would claim that it was not for the potatoes.

If our intention is to make the world safe for democracy - it should mean democracy all over the world not just ours. Flaunting the rule of international law and international democratic principles and proceeding like its the wild wild west is not my idea of creating a safer world.

I am glad to see Saddam go - I am happy to see that the sanctions may come to an end for the people of Iraq -

Baton Rouge, La.: Most Iraqi citizens have lived under brutality and oppression their entire lives. What do you think democracy means to a person inside Iraq who has never left the country and seen how a democracy works? Do you think an Iraqi police force is likely to become as oppressive as its predecessor given that the Iraqi people are accustomed to obey only force?

Andy Shallal: After the fall of the monarchy in 1958 - Iraqis did experience a period (albeit short) of relative freedom. This unfortunately came to an end by a series of coups that led to Saddam Hussein in 1979.

The Iraqi people are well educated and during the best of years (in the late 70's) Iraq's literacy rate was one of the highest in the Arab world.

I do believe that it may take some time, but Iraqis will embrace democracy - that is why I feel that before we start any reconstruction in Iraq - we must begin by developing and nurturing democratic institutions - not next year - not next month but Today..

Gullsgate, Minn.: Andy Shallal: Chalabi has more 'roots' tied to this administration than to Iraq--and Jordan certainly cannot love him after sucking the funds out of their banks etc. Whose name comes up that would give positive hope for the Iraqi people. thank you.

Andy Shallal: What is critical is the process in which Iraqis will determine their leadership - They and they alone will determine who will lead them. Again Process- Process - Process ..

Winchester, Va.:
Mr. Shallal, I am sure you will not print this, but your very first sentence in this discussion has shown clearly that you are using this forum to propagate your antiwar agenda and not really talk about post war Iraq.

I am sorry but we Iraqi exiles are NOT against the war! Where did you even get that impression? There has been many demonstrations for the war by Iraqis all over the world. We are for the war because its a chance for an end to the status quo.

I just am shocked that you presume to speak so wrongly for the Iraqis in the diaspora.

Andy Shallal: there is a difference here -

there are pre 1991 Iraqi Americans and there are Iraqi Americans that left Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war. I do agree with you that many Iraqis who left after 1991 saw war as the only option - other Iraqis who have been here for a long time feel that America is a land of law and order and espouses principles that are far larger than Saddam Hussein - needs to adhere to international norms and laws. Most of us felt that this invasion - lacking the support of the United Nations - and the support of the majority of the world - including the populace fly in the face of all the values that make America great.

This is not to deny the fact that Saddam Hussein needed to go -


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company