on the importance of Indigenous Peoples debating their participation in the Iraq war
Overwhelming numbers of people and governments around the world and in the United States regard the Iraq war as a mistake and unjust. However, it is not clear where American Indian peoples stand since most have not organized formal community-wide discussions to assess the legitimacy of this war and its consequences for their communities, the Iraqi people, and Mother Earth. It is not clear where tribes stand regarding the participation of Indigenous soldiers in the U.S. military occupation and war against Iraq. It is not clear whether tribal communities do or do not support the “surge” of another 30,000 troops into Iraq or a U.S. war against Iran. Furthermore, it is has become exceedingly clear that this war violates several important American Indian values and beliefs that are necessary to the survival of Native Peoples: honesty, competent leadership, the sacredness of all life, relatedness to all peoples and beings, respect for Mother Earth, the Great Circle of Life, and war as a last resort.
1. The U.S.-led war against Iraq is illegal and unjust
Native American soldiers serving in Iraq are engaged in one of the most unpopular, illegal, mismanaged, and unjust wars in the history of the U.S. The Bush administration launched the war for “regime change” (removing Saddam Hussein) which is not legal under international law, Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter. The Bush administration launched the war by falsely claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Osama bin Laden. The war was never endorsed by the United Nations Council and most nations wanted the UN inspections for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to continue until there was evidence that they did or did not exist. However, the United States invaded Iraq before inspections were completed. Before the U.S.-led invasion, UN weapons inspectors agreed that 90-95 percent of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capacity had been eliminated by 1998 and what remained were only bits and pieces of that program which constituted no threat to the United States.
2. The Iraq war has caused intense suffering and death for innocent Iraqis
Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi people have been killed, maimed, and tortured during the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. In 2004, as many as 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war. In October of 2006, The Lancet medical journal reported that the death toll among Iraqis had climbed to an estimated 655,000. In June 2006 alone the UN reported that over 3,000 Iraq civilians were violently killed. The organization Iraq Body Count reported that “(March 2006 – March 2007) has been by far the worst year for violence against civilians in Iraq since the invasion.” For instance, “mortar attacks that kill civilians have quadrupled in the last year (from 73 to 289)” while “fatal suicide bombs, car bombs, and roadside bombing attacks have doubled (from 712 to 1476).”A national 2007 ABC News poll taken in Iraq indicates that seven in 10 people report multiple signs of traumatic stress, more than half of Iraqis, 53 percent, have a close friend or relative who’s been hurt or killed in the current violence and eighty-six percent worry about a loved one being hurt; two-thirds worry deeply. In November 2005, 63 percent of Iraqis felt very safe in their neighborhoods. Today just 26 percent say they feel safe. In Baghdad eighty-four percent feel unsafe.
3. Invading Iraq has made the world more unsafe and Iraqis want the U.S. out their country
In a report entitled, “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” published in April 2006, 16 different American intelligence agencies concluded that the U.S. invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq has worsened the threat of global terrorism. A 2007 ABC News poll revealed that very few Iraqis believe that the U.S. and Iraqi security forces can change the terrible situation in Iraq and many feel that if the Americans left that things would improve. The poll found that 78 percent of Iraqis now oppose the presence of U.S. forces on their soil and 51 percent now say it is “acceptable” to attack U.S. and coalition forces. In early 2004 only 17 percent felt this way. Nearly 60 percent of Iraqis say that they believe that the U.S. controls things in Iraq. In a rejection of the Bush administration’s belief that a “surge” of U.S. troops will stabilize Iraq, less than 3 in 10 Iraqi’s feel that sending more U.S. troops to Baghdad and Anbar will improve security. Almost everyone in Anbar believes it will make security worse. Despite the billions of U.S. taxpayer monies sent to Iraq for post war rebuilding, 67 percent of Iraqis say that postwar reconstruction efforts have been ineffective or nonexistent.
4. The Iraq war has very little support
National U.S. polls indicate that the Iraq war is now more unpopular than the Vietnam War. Nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population now believes that it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq and an even larger number disapprove of the way that President Bush is handling the war. In an ABC/Washinton Post poll taken after Bush addressed the nation on Iraq on Jan. 10, 2007, Americans by 65-34 percent opposed his plan for a surge of 20,000 troops. A CBS/New York Times poll taken during February 23-27, 2007 showed that 74 percent of the respondents thought that U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq were going somewhat badly or very badly. In his most recent major policy shift to try to stabilize Iraq, Bush has proposed sending almost 30,000 more troops to Iraq. However, nearly 60 percent of the American public want Congress to block his plans, while 70 percent say he doesn’t have clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq; almost four in 10 Republicans agree.
5. Beginning Solutions
Indigenous communities are sovereign nations with all the powers of self-government. Tribal sovereignty resides in the tribal membership and predates that of the United States. The use of War Powers represents the ultimate act of sovereignty. Article I, Sec 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, the War Powers Clause, authorizes the U.S. Congress exclusive authority to declare war. The sovereignty of tribal nations enables tribes to create their own War Powers within their tribal constitutions.
Debates can help tribal communities to formally discuss and act on their support or disapproval of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Debates must be held to create awareness and clarity on the war and how it supports or contradicts the cultural beliefs and values of the nation. All citizens must be represented in the discussions to give an accurate picture of the views and opinions of the nation. Tribal elders, spiritual leaders, youth, women, veterans, educators, activists, and peacemakers, must strongly encourage these debates. Time is of the essence since the U.S. could soon launch a war against Iran, Venezuela, or North Korea, which would further entangle Indigenous soldiers and communities in another war.
Debates can also assist Indigenous communities to create Just War principles that can be used to determine: (1) How to prevent war, (2) When the use of force is appropriate, (3) How can war be waged in an honorable and humane manner, (4) How and when war can be ended, (5) What can be done to keep peace, and (6) How to honorably reconcile with the “enemy.” The power and of tribal self-governance has existed “from time immemorial” and enables Indigenous communities to (a) formally discuss the costs and realities of war and, and (b) to create and use principles of peacemaking and just war. It’s time to use these powers.
This (short version) BROWN PAPER was prepared by Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Critical and Intuitive Thinking and Associate Professor of Indigenous Nations Studies, University of Kansas. Comments can be sent to Dr. Yellow Bird at: 1410 Jayhawk Blvd, room 105, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 66045 (phone 785.864.2661, Fax: 785.864.0370, E-mail: email@example.com). A more detailed version of this BROWN PAPER is available upon request. Lawrence, KS, June 10, 2007.