The room buzzes as the weather outside peaks at a mere 40 degrees. Inside the audience is perking up, munching sugary pastries, sipping coffee and taking in the energy of fellow activists here to make change.
Gathered at Rutgers School of Law for Iraq at the Crossroads: Protecting Refugees, Rescuing our Allies, and Empowering Iraqi Law, these 200+ concerned citizens and academics have come together to work for a free and secure Iraq. The event, hosted at Rutgers on October 24, 2008, was sponsored by Iraq War veteran Kevin Murphy and his fellow Law Record colleagues.
One of the greatest challenges to the stability of Iraq is what Sam Parker of the U.S. Institute of Peace calls “sectarian entrepreneurs.” Speaking on the first panel of the day, he says that conflicts of identity and power have erupted in the absence of government institutions and are without historical precedent. The diverse groups of Iraq have historically gotten along well and it is largely in times of intervention by outside forces that Iraqis have violently broken into sectarian division.
Daniel Rothenberg of DePaul University joins in, coining this an “Economy of Violence.” He says that in the absence of a strong government and basic infrastructures, such as job opportunities and education, Iraqis have become unemployed, idle, hungry, and angry. Force and violence often seem the only means of survival, and in desperation, Iraqis have formed militias, raping and pillaging their neighborhoods, taking what they need.
Such violence and torture was iconic Saddam—an eerie parallel with Iraq’s troubled history.
“There is little difference between suffering by those who were taken by Saddam in the past, and the militias or peshmergas we see today,” continues Professor Rothenberg. Rape, in particular, has become a widely used method of violence, especially against Shi’a woman. Rapes in front of family members are increasingly common.
Terror and fear have gripped the Iraqi people as cities have been burned, schools bombed, families broken. The relatively peaceful coexistence of Shi’a, Sunni, Kurds and Iraq’s many minority groups has been erased by sectarian entrepreneurs. Seeking protection, Iraq’s people have found little alternative than to retreat to their tribal and religious groups, further dividing and isolating themselves.
“The explanation is more than just century old hatreds,” says Rothenberg.
Among the many powerful concluding messages of the Rutgers conference was the necessity of sound government institutions to maintain order, provide for the people and ensure a prosperous, peaceful future.
Caption: Iraq's empty neighborhoods.