Tuesday afternoon at the University of Pittsburgh Greensburg Campus, we were fortunate enough to have Raed Jarrar, the Iraq Consultant for the American Friends Service Committee speak to us about the occupation of Iraq through the eyes of an Iraqi, now U.S. citizen. Raed Jarrar, for those who are not familiar with his background, was born and raised in Iraq and is of both Sunni and Shiite descent. He has a degree in architecture from the University of Jordan, is a Red Cross Volunteer, and a Human Rights activist. He first came to the public attention with his blog entitled “Where is Raed?” created with the help of his friend Salam Pax. He is probably even better known due to an August 2006 incident with JetBlue at JFK International Airport, where he was stopped for wearing a shirt that read “We will not be silent” in both English and Arabic. The shirt was produced by an anti-war group and inspired by the German translation, “Wir schweigen nicht.” It was the slogan of the German antifascist group called The White Rose. He was eventually permitted to board the aircraft, but was forced change his shirt and sit in the back of the plane under the watchful eyes of a flight attendant. In his description of the account yesterday, he described how, after he was permitted to board and the flight was in progress, he watched Fox News on the television on the seatback. He described how Fox News painted a horrible picture of Muslims, and how he believed that the impression he had of America as the land of opportunity and equality became tarnished. He now believed he had moved to a country that hated Muslims, and that he was the enemy of the United States. Following this incident, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on his behalf against JetBlue for illegal discrimination. Last month, he was awarded a settlement of $240,000. Today, he spoke mainly about the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The first point he wished to address was a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA. He spoke of how the Iraqi government went through the necessary steps to pass the agreement, but in the United States, the former administration tried to bypass it with an “Executive Agreement,” which would not make the agreement constitutionally binding the way that ratification in the Senate would. This agreement, if passed, has withdrawal guidelines, ending the occupation completely by December 31, 2011. The Obama Administration has an alternative plan. According to Jarrar, this would withdraw combat troops in 16 months, possibly 23 months, a plan that I myself discovered through Yahoo news last week. However, combat troops only make up half of the people currently occupying Iraq. The government tries to justify this “presence” as necessary in protecting the United States Embassy in Iraq, training Iraqi soldiers, and for counter-terrorism attacks. These are tens of thousands of people left behind when the armed forces leave. Iraqis still see this as occupation. To them, the troop levels do not matter. One person remaining would still be an occupation to the people of Iraq. Based on this 16 month plan, the American Friends Service Committee has started the website countdowntowithdrawal.org as part of it’s Wage Peace Campaign. On the 20th of every month, the AFSC sends Obama a notification that another month has elapsed, and that he has one less to end the occupation. This was just part of the 90 minute presentation. He also discussed how the United States was led into a war based on lies. The conflict started 18 years ago and not much of the policies in Iraq have changed. It is a war based on misconceptions, even on the part of top government officials. Colin Powell actually believed there were weapons of mass destruction, and when it was discovered that the United States was wrong, he admitted it. As Jarrar said “Colin Powell was tricked into saying these things. He actually believed these things.” Jarrar believes, as do I, that the U.S. government knew there were no weapons, and that they invaded because they knew that. This is an attempt to take over Iraq’s oil, which is the second biggest oil reserve in the world. Had there actually been weapons, the government would not have dared to invade. This is how the Iraqi people see it. They do not believe that the United States is their liberator. The U.S. did not invade because they were protecting them from genocide or because they were degraded. The last administration claimed that Iraq would fail if the occupation ended too soon. Jarrar does not believe this to be true. In the last 1246 years, Baghdad has been occupied twenty different times. Not once after the foreign rule ended did the country collapse into ruin. There are also misconceptions of the Iraqi culture. In the U.S. it is believed that the violence that occurs is because of religious differences. In reality, it is not as simple as Sunni versus Shiite. As I said before, Jarrar is both. It is Sunni versus Sunni, Shiite versus Shiite, and yes, some of it is Sunni versus Shiite, but it cannot be narrowed down to a religious conflict. It is really more political and economical. Unfortunately, the American people do not see this. They see suicide bombers blowing up buses on crowded streets. To conclude the presentation, Jarrar argued that the best way to help the Iraqi people is to get out, end the occupation, and let them run their own lives. With this said, most Iraqis know the difference between the United States government and the United States citizens. They do not blame the American citizens for this occupation, knowing fully well that most are opposed to the war. The election of Barack Obama has begun the process of repairing our reputation with Iraq and the rest of the world. The information that I have produced is the content of the presentation of The Iraq Occupation: Decoding the Misconceptions, which I attended this afternoon. This is the argument of Raed Jarrar. Unfortunately, it is only as good as the notes I took, which probably are not that great because I am a really slow writer.