Iraq diary: Civil society and self-determination
The La’onf Iraqi nonviolence network second national conference began on Sunday morning, and the opening remarks were delivered by local officials of civil society and the local government. They voiced optimism that their organizations are making contributions to the Iraqi people, particularly those seeking to establish a democratic society operating under legal constitutional protections of human and civil rights.
Terry Rockefeller (in white shirt, shown in photo above), of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and a cofounder of the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), rehearsed the founding and history of ICSSI in Italy in 2009. More than 60 Iraqi activists from throughout Iraq had gathered to spend five days discussing the work they were doing and the challenges they faced. For another three days they were joined by 20 more activists from around the world who shared a concern for their efforts and the future of Iraq. At the end of the Italy conference there was a campaign launched to resist the proposed law on NGOs with a goal of giving the NGO sector a stronger voice in the reconstruction of Iraq. The result was the strong and positive legislation that was adopted in the end. Today, October 21, 2012, marks the beginning of the fourth annual meeting of this community. She closed by lifting up the collaborative character of this community of practice, acting without formal leadership or budget, to focus instead on campaigns and their strategies.
A number of campaign stories were introduced briefly: Sports for Peace — Erbil Marathon (5,000 participants in 2012 from 40 different countries); Campaign to Save the Tigris River and the Salt Marshes; Campaign on Private Security and Military Contractors; and U.S. Labor Against the War’s work toward a joint statement of solidarity for a new labor law for Iraq. I was asked to offer an invitation to participate in the 2 Million Friends for Ceasefire in Afghanistan Campaign and the monthly calls of the Global Days of Listening with the Afghan Peace Volunteers.
Felipe Daza Sierra offered a workshop: “The Privatization of Warfare, Violence and Private Military & Security Companies.” An invitation to introduce ourselves and explain our interest in the workshop was a foreign experience to many, and was finally abandoned in the interest of time.
Felipe described the research team created to study arms trade/sales and security contracts to Iraqi clients, and post-conflict transition failures, which included a wider range of privatization of the use of force by the state. The research resulted in a report published by NOVA. Military, technological, and security industries have merged effectively to form a new global business phenomenon that may be reaping more benefits from the region than the oil companies. This is the business of continuing profits from war. More than 120 such companies operating in Iraq were studied in this report, the majority of which are from the United States [Blackwater (now Xe/Academi), Halliburton, G4S, etc.].
These companies are also operating in the United States and England, e.g. G4S was contracted to provide security at the Olympics, but was unable to meet requirements of the contract, raising a question about the quality of their services in Iraq. They have highly elevated salary levels relative to local schedules and instead of constructing capacity internally the role is being outsourced by the State. The process is beyond the reach of regulation and therefore often operates with impunity, free of threat of judicial review or response when laws and rights are violated. There was a suggestion that the threat has already been addressed and that the information the report is based on is outdated; but the currency of that data was reaffirmed by the presenter.
The campaign is called Control PMSC and its goal is to create an international business document/convention to control these businesses. These companies represent a threat to the process of democratization in Iraq. Working through advocacy in the United Nations, to educate and advocate nationally in Iraq, the United States, and elsewhere, the goal is to affect a regulatory response. The intentions are to create transparency and accountability, and thus create jobs and businesses for Iraqis rather than outsource.
Discussion raised the challenges of trying to research and address companies which are owned by members of parliament or those otherwise in positions of power which may not be easily researched and exposed. The search for resource people may be a question that is too sensitive to explore in as public a setting as this forum. Check the ROCOPS web site for information sharing about contracts companies and the U.S. government. There was a clear appreciation of the need for strategic networks if partners across Iraqi society were to contribute to the work of the campaign across international boundaries. Reference was made to a local organization known as the “social police” created and designed to resolve problems without involving the police.
Next, Joanna Rivera of Nature Iraq (at left, pictured behind the grate) offered a workshop about the Save the Tigris and Marshes Campaign. The underlying issue addressed was the threat of additional dams planned for the Tigris River in Turkey. As many as 22 dams are planned for the future. This is a very political issue both in Turkey and Iraq. The dams will further reduce flow to Iraq by 60% and reduce water quality as well. And Iraq has also developed a program of dam building on its own with impacts downstream all the way to the salt marshes of the Shat al Arab. The Euphrates is implicated as well. The Turkish project includes the sale of water to Israel, Jordan, and the Emirates.
While there is a great deal of information available already, the goal for the day was to develop a strategy for a campaign to protect the river from this threat. River flows have been reduced by 90% in the current generation of use. By 2009, the marshes were completely drained and dry, ending all fishing and other uses of the natural resource. Iraq requires 70 billion cubic meters of water for its needs, but the flow has been reduced to 17% of requirements and headed down.
Generalizing, the issue reveals that close to 80% of all water issues related to river sources in the world are located in the Middle East. Issues raised in this workshop will have profound impacts on critical places and peoples for the global future.