2006 Election Issue: Iraq

Student readings provide an overview of the Iraq situation from multiple perspectives, reports of public opinion polls about the war, and political arguments on what the U.S. should do. Discussion questions and classroom activities follow. ABRIDGED & EASIER READING VERSION

By Alan Shapiro

To the Teacher:

The Iraq War will be a key issue in the November 2006 election. The president defends his policy fiercely, warning that a withdrawal now would leave Americans at risk of "terrorist attacks in the streets of our own cities." Democrats counter that Republicans have nothing but "fear to sell."

The student readings below provide an overview of the Iraq situation from multiple perspectives, reports of public opinion polls about the war, and political arguments on what the U.S. should do. Discussion questions and classroom activities follow. See the full list of high school activities for other materials on the origins of the US invasion and the war. 

Student Reading 1

Life in Iraq After the US Invasion

What is the situation in Iraq, three-and-a-half years after the US toppled Saddam Hussein? Here are reports from multiple perspectives:

1. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is responsible for many projects in Iraq and reports regular progress. A recent update on its website included the following:

  • Agricultural projects: Date palm nurseries were established in 13 areas; 9,000 olive trees were planted; 107 mechanics were trained in farm machinery repair; 175 operators trained in wheat seed cleaning and treating.
  • Governance: USAID reported that it had provided training and support for 1,500 civic organizations to help them facilitate greater citizen involvement and to work on such issues as child welfare, domestic violence, education, and employment law.
  • Infrastructure: USAID says it has added 1,292 megawatts of new and rehabilitated generation capacity to the national grid; restored water treatment to 2.8 million Iraqis and sewage treatment for 5.1 million; and rebuilt three major highway bridges.
  • Education: more than 1,500 Iraqi faculty and students participated in workshops and courses since January to restore academic excellence in higher education. (www.usaid.gov/iraq/updates/).

2. The office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reported that dozens of projects to improve Iraq's water, sanitation, and electricity will not be finished because "The planners of the rebuilding effort did not take into account hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative costs, and mostly did not realize that the United States would have to spend money to keep things like power plants and sewage treatment plants running once they had been built." Said a spokesman for the Special Inspector General: "Those who planned the reconstruction did not understand at the time the hostile environment in which recon would be taking place." (New York Times, 1/27/06)

3. President Bush said, "You can measure progress in capacity of Iraqi units in megawatts of electricity delivered in oil sold on the market."(6/14/06)

4. According to the Brookings Institution, as of June 6, 2006, Baghdad residents got 7.6 hours of electricity a day, while the rest of the country got 11.8 hours. Iraqi unemployment nationwide was 28% to 40%. Since 2003, 40% of the Iraqi professional class has left the country.

5. Oil produced by Iraq amounted to 1.4 million barrels of oil a day for the first five months of this year, according to the International Monetary Fund's latest report. Iraq's pre-war oil production was 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. One major reason for the low Iraqi oil production is 317 pipeline attacks as of July 28, 2006, according to a Brookings Institute report (www.brookings.edu).

6. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security advisor, speaking about the situation in oil-rich southern Basra: "There is a 6,000-barrel-per-day difference between the level of production for export and the level of actual export. It goes into the pockets of warlords, militias, organized crime, political parties." (New York Times, 6/13/06)

7. In "The State of Iraq: An Update" ( 6/16/06), The New York Times offered this table, which it said was "compiled from a variety of government and news media sources."

  May 2003 May 2004 May 2005 May 2006
Iraqi civilian deaths 250 1,000 1,000 1,500
Iraqis kidnapped per day  2 10 25 35
US troop fatalities 37 80 77 68
Iraqi army & police fatalities 10 65 259 149
Estimated # of insurgents 3,000 15,000 16,000 20,000
Estimated # foreign fighters 100 500 1,000 1,500
Daily attacks by insurgents 5 53 70 90
Monthly incidents of sectarian violence 5 10 20 250
Megawatts of electric power from official grid (Prewar: 4,000) 500 3,900 3,700 3,800

8. The United Nations tracks casualty figures by collating numbers from the Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue. Recent figures on Iraqi violent civilian deaths include:

  • June 2006: 3,149 (an average of more than 100 per day)
  • July 2006: 3,438 (a 9% increase over June and nearly double the toll in January 2006)
  • At least 17,776 Iraqi civilians died violently from January-July 2006.
  • In July, 2,625 "improvised explosive devices" (IEDs) were found throughout Iraq, almost double the January number and the highest monthly total since the war began. Of these, 1,666 exploded while the rest were discovered before they detonated. (The New York Times, 8/20/06)

9. Inflation is also making everyday life for Iraqis very difficult. According to the Iraqi government, fuel and electricity prices are almost three times what they were last year. Egg prices have doubled. The price of the gas cylinders most families use for cooking is five times higher. Unemployment estimates range from 40 to 60 percent. Fuel prices are sharply higher and supplies are short. According to the New York Times (8/26/06), lines at gas stations "stretch as far as the eye can see."

10. The war began in March 2003. Between then and the end of 2005, 889,000 Iraqis had moved abroad as refugees, mostly to Syria and Jordan. This figure is more than double the 366,000 counted at the end of 2004, according to the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. The prewar population of Iraq was about 25 million.

11. As of August 2006, more than 2,600 US soldiers had been killed in Iraq and close to 20,000 wounded, 8,000 very seriously. (www.juancole.com)

For discussion

1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. Imagine that you are an ordinary Iraqi. What items cited in Reading One would be especially important to you? Why? What do they say about the quality of your life?

3. What do the statistics about Iraqi refugees say to you about life in Iraq?

Student Reading 2

Sectarianism in Iraq

Top military and civilian leaders testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on August 3, 2006. General John Abizaid, commander of American forces in the Middle East, said, "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed. ("Sectarian" relates to a sect or sects. Sects in Iraq include Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and the Kurdish people who live primarily in the northern part of Iraq.)

In Baghdad neighborhoods, sectarian violence is often aimed at "ethnic cleansing." Shiite militias in areas that are mostly Shiite force Sunnis out or kill them. The reverse takes place in largely Sunni neighborhoods.

The daily mayhem in Baghdad also includes a Sunni-based insurgency. The growth of this insurgent movement led the US to add 7,000 American and 5,000 Iraqi troops to the 9,000 American troops, 8,500 Iraqi soldiers, and 34,500 Iraqi police officers already working to provide security in Baghdad. In a neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweep, these forces began working to clear the city of insurgents and militias. (New York Times, 8/2 and 8/29/06). Late in August, General Abizaid said the situation in Baghdad had improved.

The reasons for sectarian conflict between Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents are complex. Though Sunni Muslims represent only about 20 percent of the Iraqi population, Sunnis dominated the country politically for decadesóincluding during the reign of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. About 60 percent of Iraqis are Shiites; 20 percent are Kurds. Saddam Hussein's troops killed many tens of thousands of Shiites and Kurds during their 1991 revolts against his rule following the Gulf War. The US invasion changed the power equation and took the lid off the Iraq's sectarian divide. Today a coalition of Shiites and Kurds control the leading positions in the government.

The sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis became especially violent after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on February 22 (no one took credit for the bombing, which was condemned by the US). This mosque is revered by Shiites, many of whom believe that the final awaited imam, or religious leader, will reappear there to bring salvation.

After the mosque bombing, Shiite militias killed 1,000 Sunnis and attacked Sunni mosques in revenge. Savage fighting between Shiites and Sunnis escalated in what now has the appearance of civil war. (www.washingtonpost.com, 5/28/06) Significant numbers of Iraqi policemen and some Iraqi soldiers are loyal to Shiite and Kurdish militias.

Internal disputes among Shiites also can result in violence. Shiite factions have fought each other in Basra. A battle in the southern Iraq city of Diwaniya in late August lasted hours, pitting a Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr against the Iraqi army, a majority of whom are also Shiite. At least 50 died and more than 100 were wounded in the fighting.

This battle demonstrates one of the numerous complications in Iraq. The power of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, also a Shiite, depends upon two armies: the official Iraqi army, which was trained by the US, and the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, al-Maliki's most important political backer. If al-Maliki tries to disband al-Sadr's militia or integrate it into the Iraqi army, he will lose al-Sadr's support.

Members of sectarian militias also infiltrate and even control police units: insurgents and criminals wearing stolen uniforms identifying them as security officials kidnap people for ransom and commit other crimes. "Whenever I see uniforms now, I figure they must be militias," said Majid Hamid, a Sunni human rights worker. "I immediately try to avoid them. If I have my gun, I know I need to be ready to use it." (New York Times, 8/3/06)

The Iraqi military "faces severe constraints," wrote Michael Gordon in the New York Times (8/20/06). "It has no helicopter-assault capability, indeed no air force to speak of. It mostly relies on the Americans for medical care and reconnaissance. And it has had no tradition of entrusting its sergeants and other noncommissioned officers with important responsibilities." Furthermore, he adds, "most Iraqi divisions are only at 65 to 70 percent strength for a variety of reasons. Home leaves and desertion are major ones."

Iran is another important element in Iraq's security situation. Some members of the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government received refuge in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq. They and other Shiite leaders have close ties to Iran, which is said to provide money, training and weapons to Shiite militias.

The Iraqi government operates from the heavily fortified and guarded "Green Zone" in Baghdad and has little power. It cannot maintain law and order or provide the services expected of governments. It has no authority or even presence in northern Iraq, where Kurds, who are a non-Arab people unlike most Iraqis, have for years run a virtually separate government . In southern Iraq, there is a movement for such a government under Shiite rule. Shiite clerical authority is already enforced there by militias.

The possibility of Iraq breaking up into small states is real and potentially dangerous. The populations of neighboring Turkey, Iran, and Syria include significant numbers of Kurds. The governments of those countries oppose a separatist Kurdistan that could attract their own Kurdish citizens and would fight to prevent such a development. Such predominantly Sunni Arab countries as Saudi Arabia and Syria would strongly resist any Shiite mini-state in the south of Iraq. Most of Iraq's vast oil reserves are in the north and south. Control of and profit from them by Kurds and Shiites could leave the bulk of the Sunni population in Baghdad and the west with no benefits from Iraq's major source of income.

The Iraq conflict puts us at risk of a wider war in another way. Writes Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks in his book Fiasco: "In January 2005, the CIA's internal think tank, the National Intelligence Council, concluded that Iraq had replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for a new generation of jihadist terrorists. The country has become 'a magnet for international terrorist activity,' said the council's chairman, Robert Hutchings."

"Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet."
—a Marine poster. (New York Times, 7/5/06)

For discussion

1. Have students pair up in two's facing each other. Ask them to bring their own knowledge and opinions to the following question: If you were responsible for assessing progress in Iraq, what would be the three most important items you would base it on?

2. Each student has no more than two minutes to respond, after which they might discuss any differences for a few minutes. Remind students that when they are listeners, their goal is to focus their complete attention on the speaker and listen in interested silence.

3. Invite reports from a number of sets of pairs. What seem to be the three chief criteria students would use to measure progress?

4. Ask students to return to their pairs. This time ask the following question: How do you assess the progress on each criterion? Proceed as above.

5. Invite general class discussion:

  • What further questions do students have about the readings? How might they be answered?
  • How would you define "civil war"? What evidence is there for civil war in Iraq?
  • What evidence is there that the situation has not yet reached that point?
  • What do you understand by "ethnic cleansing"? Are those words appropriate to describe what is happening in Baghdad? Why or why not?
  • What problems are there with the Iraqi security forces?
  • Why is there a danger of Iraq's breaking up?
  • Why do you suppose that Iraq has become "a magnet" for foreign terrorists?
  • What does the Marine poster say to you about the situation in Iraq? 

Student Reading 3

Public Views of the Iraq War

No election issue divides Americans more than the Iraq War. No warónot even Vietnamóhas created a greater division in the US, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted July 21-25, 2006. A report by the Pew Research Center for People and Press supports this conclusion. A Pew survey earlier this year found that 73% of Democrats believe that military action in Iraq was the wrong decision, compared with just 14% of Republicans. That opinion gap is roughly three times as great as the largest partisan gap in opinions about Vietnam, said Pew.

The Times/CBS poll reported that three-quarters of Republicans said the US was right to invade Iraq; only 24 percent of Democrats did. Independents were split. The major reasons given for this wide political division included:

  • "a polarizing president"
  • the Democrats' doubts about the use of force, "especially without broad international support, and the course of the war has seemed to justify their doubts"
  • the Republicans' loyalty to President Bush "for his handling of the fight against terrorism"
  • the view that Democratic criticisms are counterproductive to the effort to "fight terrorism"

Overall, 62% of Americans "disapproved of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq," while 32% approved. (New York Times, 7/27/06)

Supporters of the two parties even disagree about what is happening in Iraq. In June 2006 the Pew Research Center asked Democrats and Republicans whether they thought the US was making progress:

  • in training Iraqi forces
  • in rebuilding infrastructure
  • in establishing democracy
  • in preventing a terrorist base for attacks
  • in defeating the insurgency

To these questions a substantial majority of Republicans (as many as 81% of them) answered "yes." A substantial majority of Democrats (as many as 67%) answered "no." Independents were split.

On three key issues the disagreement continued:

  • Did the US make the right decision in using force in Iraq? Yes: 83% of Republicans, 24% of Democrats.
  • Will the US definitely or probably succeed? Yes: 81% of Republicans, 41% of Democrats.
  • Should the US keep troops in Iraq? Yes: 72% of Republicans, 31% of Democrats. Independents were divided on each of these issues.

According to an August CNN poll, a majority of Americans supports the withdrawal of at least some troops by the end of this year.

Activity: Moving Opinion Poll

Moving opinion polls are a way to get students up and moving as they place themselves along a STRONGLY AGREE - STRONGLY DISAGREE continuum according to their opinions about specific statements.

The most powerful aspect of this exercise is the insight, new to many students, that people can disagree without fighting. In fact, people can listen to various points of view respectfully and even rethink their own opinions upon hearing the views of others.

Create a corridor of space in your room from one end to the other that is long enough and wide enough to accommodate your whole class. Make two large signs and post them on opposite sides of the room: Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree.

Explain to students: "You will be participating in a moving opinion poll. Each time you hear a statement, move to the place along the imaginary line that most closely reflects your opinion. If you strongly agree you will move all the way to one side of the room. If you strongly disagree, move all the way to the opposite side of the room. You can place yourself anywhere in the middle, especially if you have mixed feelings about the question. After you have all placed yourself along the continuum, I will invite people to state why they are standing where they are. This is not a time to debate or grill each other. Rather this is a way to check out what people are thinking and get a sense of the different ways people perceive the issue."

When you do this activity, begin with non-controversial statements like, "Apple pie is the best of all pies" or "Tennis is the best spectator sport." Then introduce any of the questions cited in the polls referred to in the reading. You might want to change questions slightly by introducing different qualifiers, conditions, and contexts to see if students' opinions shift.

Once students have positioned themselves in response to a statement, ask each cluster of students to explain their position. You may want to ask clarifying questions. Once different groups have made their arguments, give any students whose views have shifted because of the discussion a chance to change their position on the continuum.

For discussion

1. What are the issues on which there is most class agreement? Disagreement?

2. How would you explain such agreements? Disagreements?

3. How would you explain the division in the US over the Iraq war?

4. Why do you suppose there is division even over what is happening in Iraq?

Student Reading 4

Policy and Politics

The top election issue among voters around the country is Iraq. Republican and Democratic leaders have strikingly different views of this critical issue.

Republican Views

Most Republican candidates support the president's policy. The Bush administration says the aim of its Iraq policy is to develop "a peaceful, united, stable, and secure Iraq, well integrated into the international community, and a full global partner in the global war on terror." The policy "is a vital US interest because it will help win the war on terror and make America safer, stronger, and more certain of its future." ("National Strategy for Victory in Iraq")

The success of this policy, President Bush insists, requires that US troops "stay the course" in Iraq, that their removal not be tied to some "artificial timeline." Last year he said, "Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." More recently he said, "And there are a lot of people in the Democrat Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period, and they're wrong." (8/21/06)

Another common theme in Bush administration statements about Iraq links it with 9/11 and "the war on terror." When the president declared "the end of major combat operations" on May 1, 2003, he added, "With those [9/11] attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got." He said on August 30, "If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities."

Vice President Dick Cheney said, "If we follow [Democratic] advice and withdraw from Iraq, we will simply validate the Al Qaeda strategy and invite more terrorist attacks." (8/19/06)

Said Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Hastert (Republican of Illinois, on 11/05): "Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans."

The president, the vice president and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likened what they call the "war on terror" to US wars on fascism, Nazism, and communism. They charge that Democrats who call for withdrawal from Iraq support "appeasement," a term often used to critically describe Britain's policy toward Nazi Germany before World War II.

The president's overall public approval rating, according to the August 17-21, 2006 New York Times/CBS News poll, was 36%. But on his handling of "terrorism," it was 55%. In the congressional election campaign Republican candidates are very likely to emphasize this rating and link terrorism with the war in Iraq.

In a memo to Republican candidates, the Republican National Congressional Committee wrote that the terror plot uncovered over the summer in London "reminded us that we continue to operate in a pivotal phase in the global war on terror. You should move to question your opponent's commitment to the defeat of terror and create a definitive contrast on this issue." (Newsweek, 8/21/28)

Democratic Views

Most Democrats see the president's Iraq policies as a failure and call for the removal of US troops in some kind of phased withdrawal.

Senator John Murtha (Democrat of Pennsylvania), a long-time strong supporter of the US military, was the first prominent Democrat to state publicly that the US was not only failing in Iraq but also that its occupation there helped to fuel a violent insurgency. He called for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq and redeployed nearby in the Middle East. Other Democrats followed his lead.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said on August 21, 2006: "The president's promise to keep American forces in Iraq as long as he is in office is no substitute for an effective plan to complete the mission. Democrats believe it's time for a new direction in Iraq, with responsible redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq that begins this year."

However, some legislators are more equivocal. For instance, Sen. Hillary Clinton (Democrat of New York) has rejected the idea of a timetable for withdrawal, arguing that "we cannot bring the troops home until they make sure Iraq has a unified government."

Most Democratic candidates reject the idea that the Iraq War and the fight against terrorism are the same. They argue that there was no evidence of terrorists in Iraq before the U.S. invasion and that foreign terrorists have been attracted to Iraq to fight the U.S.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said of the Republican effort to link Iraq with the terror threat: "They've only got fear to sell."

Newsweek reports that "Democrats say the terror card won't work this time. 'We've all become more sophisticated about this as we've seen the consequences in Iraq,' said Jim Webb, a Senate candidate in Virginia. Webb opposes a timetable for withdrawal but wants a 'careful' exit from Iraq in consultation with Mideast allies." (Newsweek, 8/21/28)

In the August 2006 Connecticut Democratic primary election, anti-war candidate Ned Lamont defeated once-powerful Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, a supporter of the war. After his victory, Lamont said, "Stay the courseóthat's not a winning strategy in Iraq and it's not a winning strategy for America." He also asked voters to consider the domestic costs of spending $250 million a day in Iraq.

Said Lamont: "Americans are tired of being told [that] anything but the Bush-Cheney-Lieberman line on defense is akin to support for al Qaeda. Our best chance of success requires that Iraqis take control of their own destiny. America should make it clear that we have no designs on their oil and no plans for permanent bases. While we will continue to provide logistical and training support as long as we are asked, our frontline military troops should begin to be redeployed and our troops should start heading home." (www.nedlamont.org)

Democratic senators John Kerry (MA) and Russ Feingold (WI), both possible presidential candidates in 2008, have proposed the following plan for Iraq:

  • Redeploy U.S. forces from Iraq by July 1, 2007, "leaving only the minimal number of forces" necessary to complete "the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces." Maintain a nearby troop presence "to protect regional security interests."
  • Organize an "Iraqi summit meeting to include Iraqi leaders, leaders of countries bordering on Iraq, representatives of the Arab League, NATO, the European Union, and the UN Security Council to reach a comprehensive political agreement for Iraq. Such a plan would engender "support of Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds " by ensuring the fair distribution of oil revenues, disbanding militias, strengthening internal security, reviving reconstruction efforts, and producing a sustainable federal structure in Iraq."

There is practically no political discussion of the huge military bases the U.S. is constructing in Iraq and their implications. One writer, Michael Hersh, wrote in Newsweek: "If you want an image of what America's long-term plans for Iraq look like, it's right here at Balad [Air Base]. Tucked away in a rural no man's land 43 miles north of Baghdad, this 15-square-mile mini-city of thousands of trailers and vehicle depots is one of four 'superbases' where the Pentagon plans to consolidate U.S. forces, taking them gradually from the front lines of the Iraq war the vast base being built up at Balad is hard evidence that, despite all the political debate in Washington about a quick U.S. pullout, the Pentagon is planning to stay in Iraq for a long timeóat least a decade or so, according to military strategists." (Michael Hersh, "Stuck in the Hot Zone," Newsweek, 5/1/06)

For discussion

1. Where do the congressional candidates in the students' district and state stand on the Iraq War? What questions do students have about these positions? How might they be answered?

2. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?

3. Describe President Bush' strategy for Iraq. What do you think are its strengths? Its weaknesses?

4. According to Democrats, what is wrong with Bush's strategy? What are their ideas for a better one? What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each idea?

5. No one is likely to argue that there is no terrorist threat to the U.S. and other countries. But a major difference between most Republicans and most Democrats concerns any connection between the war in Iraq and terrorism. How and why do Democrats and Republicans tend to view this issue differently? How do you view it, and why?

6. Why do you suppose that the Republican National Committee urges Republican candidates "to question your opponent's commitment to the defeat of terror andÖcreate a definitive contrast on this issue."

7. How do you assess the comments of Vice President Cheney and Speaker of the House Hastert? Of Democratic minority leader Pelosi? The Kerry-Feingold plan for Iraq?

8. How would you explain the absence of political discussion on the very large military bases the U.S. is building in Iraq?

For writing

"Democrats and Republicans have internal disagreements on what to do about Iraq. But such differences are likely to disappear during a heated political campaign. You end up with very stark choices: 'stay the course' versus 'cut and run.' And in reality a lot of policy needs to be made between them," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Until June 2003, Haass was director of policy planning for the State Department. (New York Times, 7/30/06)

Write a paper in which you explain, with examples, your agreement, disagreement, or mixed feelings about Haass' view that "a lot of policy needs to be made between" some "very stark choices."

For inquiry

1. Violence is clearly a major problem in Iraq. What forms does violence take in Iraq daily? What seems to be its purpose? An excellent source is Juan Cole's daily blog, "Informed Comment" (www.juancole.com). A professor of Middle East studies at the University of Michigan and a speaker of several languages of that region, Cole also offers access on a regular basis to other sources of information on Iraq.

2. Islamic Sects: What are the origins of the split in Islam that led to the creation of the Sunni and Shiite sects? What significant differences are there between them today?

3. Oil: Oil is Iraq's most valuable natural resource. Questions about it abound:

  • What are Iraq's known oil reserves and how do they compare with reserves in other oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran?
  • Why are Iraqis suffering from a major gasoline shortage?
  • What major problems prevent Iraq from pumping more oil?
  • Why does it lack refining facilities?
  • Where are Iraq's major oil fields and how does this relate to sectarian divisions in Iraq?
  • How much money does the Iraqi government take in from its oil exports?
  • Where does this money go?

4. The Green Zone: Where is it? How extensive is it? What is in it?

5. "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq": Read and study this strategy. What are its key elements? What questions do they raise? How would the Bush administration answer them? How would you evaluate the strategy and why?

6. Election campaign: Follow closely one election campaign for the Senate or House in which the Iraq war is a significant issue. The Connecticut senatorial race is one such campaign. How do the candidates define what the U.S. should do about Iraq? What evidence do they use to support their ideas? How do you evaluate those ideas?

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org