Bring on the Bricklayers without Borders


An end to the war in Iraq depends on crafting a peace settlement. Yet in their recent testimony to the US Congress, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were unable to say what victory, let alone peace, would look like. In consequence, awful violence, such as the latest Battle for Basra, continues and proposals for troop withdrawal are repeatedly postponed.

Imaginative and feasible plans for peace do exist, and it’s time they were given a try. Blueprints by US Congressman and former Presidential Candidate, Denis Kucinich, and by the Swedish-based Trans-national Foundation for Peace and Future Research, require politicians, generals and media commentators to replace the centuries-old fascination with violence with a perspective which promotes public services, human rights and adherence to the rules of international law.

This perspective requires a shift in thinking from preoccupation with troop surge to dialogues with official leaders, with resistance groups and with ordinary citizens. Iraqi citizens must be at the centre of any dialogue for peace. On that basis, peace proposals envisage partnerships with the UN and the Arab League to establish a conference which would plan the supply of water, the protection of the elderly, the development of medical services and the creation of jobs.

If ways of cooperating with Iraqis to build peace are made clear, the withdrawal of foreign troops and military contractors, the dismantling of foreign bases and the drastic reduction in size of the US embassy become possible. On humanitarian grounds, such troop withdrawal would need to coincide with the arrival of a massive humanitarian service to share in the day-to-day slog of reconstruction and the promotion of human rights. A scheme for such intervention exists in the project to create a permanent UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS). Proposals for this service have been promoted in the US Congress, in the Japanese Diet, in key African research circles and are gaining popularity in the SE Asian region. They have direct relevance to Iraq.

Such a service would be staffed by a balance of men and women representing different cultures and religions, although in Iraq’s case, a preponderance of staff from Muslim countries would be imperative. Accountable for peace-building, this humanitarian service would require doctors, psychiatrists, teachers, nurses, social workers skilled in mental health and mediation techniques, agronomists and engineers, plumbers and bricklayers. Iraqi citizens have commented that although their country will need the skills of Medicins sans Frontieres, it will also require "Bricklayers Without Borders".

Peace-building requires the energy and imagination exhibited by students when working on internships in foreign countries. Postgraduate student exchanges lasting three, six months and a year in projects concerned with health care, education, community development, engineering and building would be a constructive contribution to an Iraqi peace plan. Such exchange would also include an opportunity for Iraqi students to go overseas, to learn and contribute in host countries.

After decades of sanctions, dictatorship and destruction, Iraq will need financial reparation, carefully calculated, properly supervised by a commission representing the UN Security Council. A precedent exists. Following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, numerous governments, corporations and individuals sought compensation from Iraq and the Security Council judged that US $350 billion was owing. Now the compensation – including the cancellation of debts – has to flow in the other direction.

The clear-up of military debris, unexploded munitions, depleted uranium, cluster bombs, land mines and guns of all kinds would be an immediate form of reparation for the destruction caused by war. The non-violent premise of peace-building means that expenditure on the means of killing people should cease and all the dangerous paraphernalia of war destroyed.

Proposals for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Iraqis and lasting for three years in the first instance, should help to reveal truths about past violence, could build trust in relationships and heal deep-seated animosities. In Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words, such a Commission would enable Iraqi people to find a middle way between general amnesia – forgetting all that has happened – and the Nuremburg principle of retributive justice imposed by the victors. Therapy will be as important to restore the social cement of Iraqi communities as the mortar required to repair buildings.

The deaths of 4000 US soldiers, the estimates that over one million Iraqis may have died and their own assessment – borne out in one opinion poll after another – that the situation created since March 2003 is markedly worse than under Saddam Hussein’s regime, make deliberations about peace an urgent political priority. But those deliberations require a drastic shift in thinking in foreign and defence policy circles, in Australia and elsewhere.

The policy of militarisation has continued for far too long and with appalling human and financial costs. Constructive debate about peace is long overdue. Visions of peace are necessary to end the occupation and to promise Iraqi citizens a better future.

This article is part of an address given at the ‘Iraq Never Again’ conference at Customs House, Sydney on 15 April.

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