Last week, EPIC Director Erik Gustafson and I joined our NGO colleagues on Capitol Hill to meet with the staff of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The meeting was one of more than a dozen that our friends at NETWORK (a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby) scheduled with Congressional leaders as part of the Iraq Peace and Development Working Group (IPDWG).
IPDWG is a new effort to gain support in Washington for peacebuilding through emergency relief and development in Iraq. The NGOs first came together in an emergency meeting in early December to respond to the world's fastest growing refugee crisis and (except possibly Darfur) deadliest conflict. By early February, the NGOs formed a working group and began meeting regularly to coordinate advocacy. With an emergency appropriations process for FY 2007 underway in Congress, and FY 2008 appropriations coming thereafter, the top priority was clear: reverse cuts in U.S. aid to Iraq.
By March, IPDWG had grown to more than 40 national organizations, and more join every month. EPIC co-chairs the working group with NETWORK. I was at the February meeting, and it is encouraging to be part of a community of NGOs sharing EPIC's mission and supporting responsible and constructive U.S. action to help civilian Iraqis.
With so many different kinds of groups and mandates, IPDWG covers a lot of ground. There are groups working to: (1) help Iraq’s war refugees and internally displaced persons, especially those who are most vulnerable; (2) better protect Iraqi civilians and assist families harmed by U.S. military operations; (3) increase U.S. support for peacebuilding through development; and (4) promote responsible global engagement to end the Iraq crisis and prevent the conflict from escalating beyond Iraq’s borders into a full scale regional war. Since EPIC is one of the only Iraq-specific organizations in Washington, we're finding ways to add value to the efforts of many of our fellow IPDWG members.
Our meeting with Speaker Pelosi's office included (from left to right in the photo): EPIC Director Erik Gustafson, Raad Jarrar with American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); Zahir JanMohamed and Sarnata Reynolds with Amnesty International USA; Sister Simone Campbell with NETWORK; and Jerrold Keilson with America's Development Foundation (ADF).
In the meeting, Jerrold explained how ADF, funded by USAID, is strengthening the role of Iraqi civil society in the country’s economic, political and social development, serving 1,900 Iraqi civil society organizations (CSOs). He made an appeal for U.S. funding so ADF can continue supporting programs vital to the international community's mission in Iraq.
Erik, a Gulf War veteran, made it clear that Gen. Petreaus and the officers and enlisted soldiers and Marines with whom he corresponds all say the same thing: what the U.S. military can achieve in Iraq is limited. At best, they can buy time for an economic and political solution. He passed on EPIC's Ground Truth Interviews with Professor Eric Davis, who advocates an economic plan for stabilizing Iraq; Professor Lisa Schirch, who champions a 3D (Development, Diplomacy, Defense) approach; and Khaldoon Ali, an Iraqi peacebuilder who directs a Baghdad-based humanitarian organization.
NETWORK Lobby’s Executive Director, Simone Campbell, brought to the forefront how important it is that Americans be seen as peacebuilders. She also appealed to Congress to restore full funding for successful relief and development programs reducing suffering and creating stability. Jerrold provided examples of successful projects operating throughout Iraq. Without continued funding, ADF's civil society program will run out of funds in June.
Amnesty International’s Sarnata Reynolds and Zahir Janmohamed took a different approach in support of a surge in humanitarian, peacebuilding assistance. They talked about the people of Iraq and their displacement due to escalating violence. Sarnata discussed the desperate measures refugees must take to survive and avoid returning to Iraq, where they fear persecution and death. In some cases, women have even been forced into prostitution. These individuals are in desperate need of humanitarian relief which the Emergency Supplemental can provide.
The meetings on Capitol Hill continue in the coming weeks, as the peace and development NGO community fights for the funding that aid agencies -- both government and non-government -- need to help meet the humanitarian, development and protection needs of Iraq's citizens and war refugees.