Resisting Imperial Memory: Confronting the History of U.S. Aggression in Iraq

March 23, 2023

Dave Inder Comar

Attorney and Executive Director of Just Atonement Inc.

Kali Rubaii 

Anthropologist, Purdue University and Cofounder of Archive Iraq

Nazli Tarzi

Journalist and Political Analyst

Salman Khairalla

Iraqi Environmental and Human Rights Activist and Co-founder of Humat Dijlah

Ross Caputi

– Moderator –
Co-author of The Sacking of Fallujah: A People’s History

The Recording

The Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was catastrophic for Iraqi society, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, eliciting sectarian animosities, and leaving the environment toxic and irradiated. However, twenty years later, Iraqi suffering is barely present in American memory of the conflict. Nor has there been a serious debate about the U.S. right to intervene in the affairs of other nations. In commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the invasion, this event explored the Iraqi experience of the conflict. Panelists discussed the legality of the invasion and occupation, the forms of hard and soft power exercised by the U.S. in Iraq, and the material consequences for the Iraqi people. Photo: Copyright Haider Husseini

Learn More

This resource sheet contains links to publications, organizations, educator resources, 20th anniversary retrospectives, film and television recommendations, and more.

The Presenters

Dave-Inder Comar is the Executive Director of Just Atonement Inc., Managing Partner of Comar Mollé LLP, and a PhD candidate in international law at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Between 2013-2017, Comar litigated a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against high-ranking members of the Bush Administration, including the former President, for launching a war of aggression against Iraq in violation of peremptory norms of international law. In 2017, the Ninth Circuit immunized the former President and other Administration members on the Westfall Act. As part of his PhD work, Comar continues to look for ways to build a just international order, particularly in the face of planetary threats from climate change.

Salman Khairalla is an Iraqi environmental and human rights activist with an academic background in environmental science (University of Kufa, Najaf, Iraq). He is a Co-founder and CEO of Humat Dijlah (Tigris River Protectors Association) and a committee member of the Save the Tigris campaign, an international civil society advocacy campaign aiming to protect the heritage and water resources of Mesopotamia from the impacts of unsustainable management and climate change. Salman has also been active in human rights campaigns, both as an organizer and placing himself on the frontlines of protests against corruption and abuses within Iraq.

Kali Rubaii is the Director of Archive Iraq and an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Purdue University. Her research explores the environmental impacts of less-than-lethal militarism, and how military projects (re)arrange political ecologies in the name of “letting live.” Her book project, Counter-resurgency, examines how farmers in Anbar, Iraq struggle to survive and recover from transnational counterinsurgency projects.

Nazli Tarzi is a multi-disciplinary, bilingual analyst with 9 years of experience in political risk consultancy and business intelligence. As a published academic and journalist, her portfolio focuses on state-society relations in the Middle East and North Africa region, as well as violent extremist actors, quotidian life, civil disobedience and water (in)security issues. She is known for her writings on Iraq, which have been published in Al Jazeera, Al-Monitor, Arab Weekly, The New Arab, the Journal of Contemporary Iraq and the Arab World. Her television credits include BBC Arabic and Netflix. Outside of politics, Tarzi is a keen archivist, cinephile and amateur filmmaker, and a cofounder of Archive Iraq.

Ross Caputi is a UMass Amherst PhD student in Modern U.S. and Italian history, with special interests in the U.S. interventions in Iraq and the social and cultural history of southern Italy. As a public historian, he is engaged in cultural and linguistic preservation work in Southern Italy. His project Memoria e lingua grumentina is focused on the documentation, description, and preservation of an endangered language spoken in the Italian village, Grumento Nova. Caputi’s research on U.S. military operations in Iraq brings together elements of new military history, propaganda studies, and people’s history. He is the main author of The Sacking of Fallujah: A People’s History (2019) and the director of the film Fear Not the Path of Truth (2014), based on his own military experience in Iraq. Ross is also a cofounder and director of archives at Archive Iraq.

The Feinberg Series

The 2022-2023 Feinberg Series is exploring histories of U.S. imperialism and anti-imperialist resistance. It is presented by the UMass Amherst Department of History in collaboration with the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy and in partnership with more than two dozen co-sponsors. The Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series is made possible thanks to the generosity of UMass Amherst history department alumnus Kenneth R. Feinberg ’67 and associates.