Iraqi immigrants in mid-Missouri use American freedoms to call for change
COLUMBIA - The desperate state of their homeland half a world away is not forgotten by first-generation Iraqi-Americans.
"We are not politicians," Columbia resident Wasim Alagha said. "We are just normal Iraqi-American citizens who can look at this country in a different way."
According to the U.S.-based nonprofit group, The Borgen Project, Iraq is in a humanitarian crisis, with 10 million people in need and more than three million internally displaced.
In 2014, poverty reached 22.5 percent nationwide. In addition, the country has been plagued by ongoing terror-related violence, adding further social, economic and security disruptions.
Iraqi-American activists want to help change that, and for some, the change starts in mid-Missouri
Alagha is a trained architect and makes a living flipping houses.
But more importantly, he said, he is an American citizen seeking to use his unique background to benefit his home country.
Alagha is part of The Independent Movement to Save Iraq, an international association of Iraqis from all over the world.
According to the group's website, it is dedicated to bringing political and economic reform to Iraq through peaceful means in concordance with international law.
Alagha said the group's main goal is to encourage U.S. lawmakers to pursue diplomacy with Iraq. He said it is in the best interest of both countries to seek a partnership.
"In order to be stabilized, you have to have a strategic ally," Alagha said. "And we think our strategic ally has to be the United States."
He said the U.S. and Iraq aren't the only countries with something to gain.
"It's going to be a benefit to the international community."
Alagha said he and his associates were spurred to action, in part, out of a belief that Iraq is not be able to make beneficial changes internally.
While the country has maintained civil relations with the United States, and agreed to host a number of U.S. soldiers, it maintains a close alliance with neighboring Iran.
Iran has been the focus of increasing disdain from the United States.
Last year, President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, a landmark nuclear weapons treaty. The president said the agreement was unfair, and Iran was not holding up its end of the bargain.
In February, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at a security conference in Germany, accusing European allies of undermining sanctions on Iran.
Alagha said Iran's influence on Iraq is palpable.
"All the parties, right now, belong to Iran," he said. "There is no legitimate opposition party."
Alagha said the politicians in Iraq are corrupt, and cannot be trusted to pursue reform on their own. Because of this, he said, that responsibility falls on the people.
Alagha said he decided to join the movement after he was convinced by a friend who is in Congress, U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kansas. Alagha said the congressman encouraged him to not simply ask for help, but rather to start working for that change himself.
Now, he and his associates are asking for an audience with Missouri lawmakers.
"We want to meet our respectable senators, our respectable congressmen here in Missouri, to explain to them how we can be benefiting United States policy," he said.
Alagha said his group is prepared to work toward its goal.
"We have plans," he said. "We actually did everything we can to plan how to make this country safe. It is a big event. It is not that easy, we know this very much. But we need help."
Alagha said, as an American citizen, he enjoys certain freedoms he would not have otherwise. He said, in Iraq, speaking out in this way could cost someone their life.
He said his group's first step was to announce its presence. Now, he hopes meaningful conversations can begin.