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The Right to Heal: 11 Years After Iraq Invasion, U.S. Urged on Reparations for War’s Enduring Wounds

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Eleven years ago this month, the U.S. invaded Iraq. Today, a group of Iraq civilians and U.S. veterans of the war are coming together in Washington to demand the U.S. government be held accountable for the lasting effects of war at home and abroad. We are joined by two members of the Right to Heal Initiative: Joyce Wagner, co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who served two tours in Iraq, and Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. She recently gathered thousands of signatures in Baghdad to request a hearing before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights — a request that was denied.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Yellow Ribbon” by Emily Yates, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. She says she wrote the song after speaking with fellow veterans about the yellow ribbon magnets people put on their cars. Yates was deployed twice to Iraq, where she served in the 3rd Infantry Division as an Army public affairs specialist from 2002 to 2008. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Iraq, which faces mounting sectarian violence 11 years since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. More than 2,100 people have been killed this year alone. Meanwhile, the U.S. confirms it sent a new round of weapons shipments to the Iraqi government to help it combat militant groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by two guests who are part of the Right to Heal coalition of Iraqi civilians and U.S. military veterans: Joyce Wagner, co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, served as a marine from 2002 to 2008, deployed twice to Iraq in 2004 and '05, and Yanar Mohammed, the president of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. She recently gathered thousands of signatures in Baghdad to request a hearing before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. The request was denied.

Yanar Mohammed, Joyce Wagner, welcome to Democracy Now! Yanar, describe Iraq 11 years later and what you feel needs to happen.

YANAR MOHAMMED: We now have a government, an Iraqi government, which is attacking the western side of Iraq under sectarian reasons. We have a political formula that has alienated people who are called Sunnis. There is a war and a siege on the western cities of the country. Hundreds of thousands are leaving their homes and trying to come back to them only to find them bombed. We have huge sectarian violence that is done by the government. We have legislation that has alienated all the women of Iraq. And it also establishes a sectarian divide by laws, something that we did not have in the previous times. And we also have a political system that has become so much of a dictatorship that it’s close to Saddam’s times. We have a beginning—or, we have a division in the country that has made a big part of the country vulnerable to the second generation of al-Qaeda organizations.

We have a situation that is not better than a war. The war in Iraq is not over yet. We are living it over and over again. And on top of that, there’s a generation of babies who are born with birth defects, whose parents are living the agonies of not knowing what to do with their children. And the story goes on. Big parts of Iraq are contaminated with depleted uranium, with white phosphorus. And the U.S. government, who started the war and eventually caused the contamination in many parts in the south, in the west and in the mid-north—the U.S. government is denying that they are the reason to this contamination and for the birth defects.

And they are absolutely quiet about a new legislation in Iraq that is putting women of Iraq—it’s taking us back in time 15 centuries. A new legislation that was drafted by the minister of justice, Hasan al-Shammari, is treating the women of Iraq in the mentality of 15 centuries back. It’s allowing the marriage—or, rather, the rape of children, female children of Iraq. And all the civil society is standing up against it, and we just—we are finding ourselves disempowered in the face of a government that has become terrorist. And it disempowered the Sunnis of Iraq. It disempowered and alienated the women of Iraq and also other ethnicities.

We are totally divided because of a political formula that was put 11 years ago. We are trying to work against it, but the job is becoming harder and harder. And when the Center for Constitutional Rights represented the Iraqis and their grievances and built the case jointly with the Iraq Veterans Against War and represented it and forwarded it to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the hearing was denied for the second time. We are trying to hold those who had—the perpetrators, George Bush, who had started—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I’d like to bring in—Yanar, I’d like to bring in Joyce Wagner into the conversation. Joyce, could you comment? You deployed twice to Iraq. How did your perception of the war change, and where do you feel that Iraq stands now?

JOYCE WAGNER: Well, there are a lot of reasons why the war in Iraq isn’t over. Obviously, there’s still a lot of violence as a result of the U.S. invasion. But there’s also a lot of toxic materials left over in Iraq, and those materials have impacted both Iraqis, who are living there still, who are challenged with things like a generation of children suffering from birth defects, and they’re also impacting U.S. servicemembers even years after the war is supposedly over. These servicemembers are living with the health consequences of those materials for the rest of their lives, if they’re lucky enough to continue to live. So I think—

AMY GOODMAN: And so, Joyce, explain the Right to Heal campaign.

JOYCE WAGNER: The Right to Heal Initiative is something that occurred when the Center for Constitutional Rights began representing Yanar’s organization, as well as another Iraqi organization and Iraq Veterans Against the War. And we’re trying to hold the U.S. government accountable for human rights violations in Iraq. So these health impacts, also for veterans, post-traumatic stress, going on repeated deployments with post-traumatic stress, military sexual assaults, and also things like using up soldiers and other servicemembers to their very maximum and then finding reasons to kick them out of the military so that they don’t have to take care of them later, they don’t have to deal with the health issues, they don’t have to provide them with educational benefits. And many people are actually left off worse than they were before the ever joined the military in the first place, in terms of economic opportunities. So, for veterans, those are some of the things that we’re trying to address. A lot of this is based on a research report that was done at Fort Hood in Texas in 2011 and 2012. Thirty-one servicemembers serving at Fort Hood were interviewed, and a number of patterns started to show up in these people’s testimonies. And the full report is going to be in released this year on Memorial Day.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Joyce Wagner and Yanar Mohammed, I want to thank you both for being with us. Joyce Wagner with Iraq Veterans Against the War. Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Together, they’re working on the Right to Heal campaign. You can watch a live stream tonight of a “People’s Hearing on the Lasting Impact of the Iraq War” in D.C. that Yanar Mohammed will be part of. It will be moderated by Phil Donahue in Washington, D.C., starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. We’ll link to the details at

And that does it for our show. On Saturday, I’ll be speaking in St. Louis, Missouri, at 6:00 p.m. at the Gateway Journalism Review’s First Amendment celebration.

And a very happy birthday to Nermeen Shaikh. Happy birthday, Nermeen!


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