For nearly three years now, KellyDougherty has been standing up against the war in Iraq. Thiswouldn’t be all that significant if it weren’t for the fact thatDougherty actually served there in a military police unit. Now, as therecently appointed director of the roughly 300-member Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)organization, she is still speaking out, campaigning for the Appeal ForRedress and expressing her frustration with the administration’smaintain the status quo attitude. I recently spoke with Dougherty aboutthe future of Iraq and the IVAW.

What has the IVAW been up to lately?

For the third anniversary of the war we marched from Mobile to NewOrleans with hurricane survivors. Then, during the summer, we hadseveral of our members go back down to New Orleans to do volunteer workfor a couple of months. Right now we’re trying to get people tovolunteer during the Thanksgiving holiday. We have some local contactsdown there called the Wrecking Crew, which is mostly made up of peoplefrom New Orleans and the area focused on rebuilding homes. We have anIVAW bus on a counter-recruitment tour. We have several people on thebus who are mostly going to inner cities where they have conferences andtalk about alternatives to military recruitment and the truth aboutmilitary service.

What should be done next in Iraq?

My personal position and the position of our organization is that weshould call for the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces. Thatreally hasn’t changed since the beginning of our organization and ifanything, for me, I’m more certain of the necessity of withdrawing ourforces than I was two and a half years ago when I’d just gotten backfrom there. I don’t think I’d imagined three years ago that’d it’d be asbad as it now.

Why is leaving now better than, say, sending more troops?

Right now I hear people talking about how we can’t leave because they’llbe civil war or there will be chaos. But from my standpoint and fromtalking to people who’ve been in Iraq more recently, who’re faced withhaving to go back for their second or third time, the situation on theground has deteriorated. This past month was one of the bloodiest of thewar and there was that report that said over 600,000 Iraqis have died since the beginning of the occupation.

I think we have to start asking ourselves what are we trying to accomplish in Iraq. Right now there’s really no hope for them to create a formal, democratic society with our help because we’ve been there for over three years and we’ve only been able to decrease the odds of that happening. It’s a privilege to sit back in America and analyze this from our prospective but for the Iraqis, they’re trying to go about living their lives in an increasingly hostile environment filled with destruction and chaos. I don’t think our presence there can solve that problem because we’re the ones who created it.

Why is the US presence so disruptive?

First of all, when we invaded Iraq, certainly in the first monthsfollowing the invasion there was a lack of reconstruction. There was alot of patrols and building US bases, but not helping the Iraqi peoplewho were in desperate need after the complete bombardment of theircountry by our military. The Iraqi people had been living under someform of warfare for years before we even got there as occupiers. We weregonna free Iraqis from a dictator and make their lives better butinstead we run amok, we kill tens of thousands of Iraqis in the processand their lives aren’t better. They have massive unemployment, fuelshortages, water shortages, lack of electricity and medical care. Ithink Americans should put themselves in the place of the Iraqis and askthemselves if your city were occupied by a foreign military who had a shoot first ask questions later attitude, withsecret prisons, torture: How would that make you feel? How angry andresentful would you be with someone like that? Time after time we’rebeing told by certain people in power that we’re making positiveprogress there but then we hear about torture, rapes, murders andrevenge killing throughout Iraq.

What do you think is going to happen now that the ‘06 election is over?

First of all, I think the administration in power doesn’t have anyintention of leaving Iraq and they’ve made that very clear. And also Ithink a lot of the Democrats also aren’t talking about exiting Iraq.There is some talk of withdrawal but it seems to me that all of thecandidates are talking in such vague terms and don’t want to actuallymake a statement or commitment to bring the troops home.

It’s going to have to take a popular public consensus–and polls arealready showing the majority of people don’t support the war–toactually work towards the end of the occupation and bring the troopshome.

So I would say that I’m optimistic because I do see a lot more peoplegetting involved with our organization, getting involved with othergroups like Military Family Speak Outand Veterans For Peace.Also, when I talk to people now I don’t really find people defending thewar. People now acknowledge that it’s horrible, that we don’t need to bethere but they don’t know how to disengage. It’s really a shame that wehave all these people in power who are supposed to be smart but can’tcome up with any ideas–actual, realistic ideas–about how are we goingto leave Iraq.

What more will it take to get people to “get it” about the war?

I feel like the public at large is so disconnected from the war becauseno one’s alive in the United States who’s experienced a war on UnitedStates soil. I don’t think people here really have an understanding ofwhat it’s like to be the focus of a war. Because fighting in a war ismuch different then being a citizen living during a war on your soil.

I don’t think there’s any empathy for a lot of people; they just don’tthink about it. Not many people have someone over there fighting thatthey love. They see Iraqis as different than themselves, which is whywhen they see a report that says 600,000 Iraqis have died as the resultof this war, people don’t even think about what a number like thatmeans. About a million were killed there as a result of our sanctions.

It seems to me that one of the reasons Iraqis mistrust us so much anddon’t want us in their country is not only because of this war butbecause of our involvement in their country, decade after decade. Whenyou look at the Iran-Iraq War, we really fueled that war. Directlyfollowing that with the first Gulf War and the war that’s going on, theIraqis get it and they feel like they have no reason to trust us. Thepeople who took us into war did so by telling lies and manipulatingpeople with bad intentions that we’re honorable because they weredishonest about the intelligence. I think it’s a big mistake to believethat the people who made the mistake of starting this war will find asolution to it.