THE POSTWAR IRAQ DEBATE: Readings & activities for high school students

July 23, 2011

"The Postwar Iraq Debate: Readings & Activities for HS Students Two readings on recent developments in Iraq,esti Bush administration policies, and domestic and international reactions to them, plus suggons for classroom activities."

To the Teacher:

The postwar situation in Iraq is the subject of much debate. Decisions being made now will have significant consequences for Iraq, for the Middle East, for U.S. relations with other countries, for the United Nations, and for President Bush's reelection campaign.

The two readings below offer a summary of recent developments in Iraq, Bush administration policies, and domestic and international reactions to them. Following the reading are suggestions for classroom activities. Because this issue is intensely controversial, teachers may find useful "Teaching on Controversial Issues," which is available on this website, as well as other recent sets of lessons on Iraq, especially "A Democratic Iraq?" and "Rebuilding Iraq: Problems and Questions."


Student Reading 1:

Continuing Problems in Iraq

On May 1 President Bush, standing on an aircraft carrier before a large sign declaring "Mission Accomplished," announced that formal combat operations were over in Iraq. Since then more American soldiers have been killed than during the war itself. A series of bombings in Baghdad and Najaf that killed dozens and wounded many more have underlined the dangers to security. Violent opposition apparently comes mainly from supporters of Saddam Hussein, who has not been captured, and from foreign terrorists—but also from ordinary Iraqis.

In Baghdad, robberies, kidnappings, and murders are frequent. The city has power only about 50 percent of the time. In various other places, sabotage of oil pipelines, power stations, and water supplies are frequent. Iraqis cooperating with the Americans (like the police chief of Khaldiya, 45 miles from Baghdad) and other Iraqi policemen have been murdered.

In a September 7 address to the nation devoted mostly to Iraq, President Bush said, "we acted in Iraq, where the former regime sponsored terror, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, and for 12 years defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council. Our coalition enforced these international demands in one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history."

Critics responded that the terrorists now in Iraq have infiltrated the country from neighboring states since the end of the war. They also charged that the President failed to acknowledge that Saddam Hussein's use of weapons of mass destruction occurred in the 1980s, at a time when the Reagan administration was supporting Iraq in its war with Iran. President Bush did not remind Americans that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq despite months of searching. He did not mention that the Security Council opposed the U.S. war on Iraq. And he did not state that estimates of civilian war deaths range from 6,000 to 10, 000.

President Bush went on to say: "In Iraq, we are helping the long-suffering people of that country to build a decent and democratic society at the center of the Middle East. Together we are transforming a place of torture chambers and mass graves into a nation of laws and free institutions. This undertaking is difficult and costly—yet worthy of our country, and critical to our security."

To create this transformation the U.S. is training an Iraqi police force and an Iraqi army to provide security and to take over tasks U.S. soldiers have been performing. An Iraqi Governing Council has been created and schools built. Work continues to secure pipelines and to repair oil production facilities, for Iraq's future prosperity depends upon sales of its immense supplies of oil.

The U.S.'s effort to transform Iraq also depends upon its ordinary citizens, who have become more and more resentful toward the U.S. occupation. Andnan Janobi, the owner of a construction company in Iraq, said, "They tell us there is no security, that they cannot rehabilitate the oil sector, that we cannot rehabilitate hospitals, because there is nobody to guard them. We are fed up with being told to wait because there is no security." (New York Times, 9/16/03)

This hostility is not just about lights that don't come on or even widespread lawlessness. One U.S. Defense Department official said, "To a lot of Iraqis, we're no longer the guys who threw out Saddam, but the ones who are busting down doors and barging in on their wives and daughters" in a search for Saddam supporters and terrorists. Another said, "As time goes on, if the infrastructure doesn't improve, and American troops are still out there front and center, it's hard to see the public mood getting any better."

Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security advisor, disagreed, saying that even where resistance is strongest in places like Baghdad and Tikrit, "there is...progress. People finished their university exams, the Iraqi symphony orchestra performed and took a tour up north. Kids went to school." (New York Times, 9/17/03)

"Our strategy in Iraq," the President said, "has three objectives: destroying the terrorists, enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq, and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense and their own future."

On "enlisting the support of other nations," he declared, "Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation."

While President Bush supports a UN resolution to authorize a multinational force for Iraq, he insists that all UN troops be placed under American command. But nations that opposed any war on Iraq without a UN resolution now oppose placing their troops under U.S., rather than Security Council, command. These nations include France, Germany, Turkey, India and Pakistan. Some also insist upon having a voice in Iraq's political and economic future, which the Bush administration has been unwilling to offer. France has also been especially vocal about handing over control of the country to the people of Iraq far more quickly than the U.S. regards as reasonable.

Very little money has been offered by American allies for economic and humanitarian aid to Iraq. Among the reasons seem to be lack of clarity from the Bush administration on exactly what aid is needed; the dangerous conditions inside Iraq for aid workers; and the unpopularity of the war and President Bush himself in many other nations.

In his September 7 speech the President stated, "Our strategy in Iraq will require new resources. We have conducted a thorough assessment of our military and reconstruction needs in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan. I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion. The request will cover ongoing military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere."

A breakdown of this budgetary request includes:

  • $65.5, most of it for military operations in Iraq, the rest for Afghanistan
  • $20.3 billion for reconstruction and security in Iraq—electric power, water and sewage, oil, transportation and communications, housing, public buildings, roads, bridges as well as Iraqi security, a new Iraqi army, police, firefighters, customs officials; and some hundreds of millions for similar expenses in Afghanistan.

(New York Times, 9/9/03, based on the following sources: White House, Congressional Research Service; Coalition Provisional Authority; and the Defense Department)

While the President's request seems likely to be approved, a number of senators, both Democratic and Republican, have questions about it. The minority leader of Senate Democrats, Tom Daschle, said, "If we're going to say we have to provide these other funds with an urgency for Iraq, there has to be an equal urgency for the kinds of things that we care so deeply about here at home." He was thinking about the need for schools and hospitals in the U.S. as well as in Iraq and what he regards as the need to put off tax cuts for the wealthy if the U.S. is to fund both Iraqi and American social projects. Senator Daschle and other Democrats have also called for the President to present a detailed plan for Iraqi projects and to explain why they should come before U.S. projects.

The majority leader of Senate Republicans, Bill Frist, said that "it's simplistic and naive" to demand a detailed strategy. But there are a number of Republican senators who also have questions. For example, Senator George Voinovich, a fiscally conservative Republican, wondered about fairness: "Look at the roads we need to go forward with here, the sewers and water projects in terms of our own economy. It's hard to say to everybody, 'Well, we don't have money for sewers and water, but we're going to put in all that money over there.'" He added that many Republicans want to be sure Iraq pays the money back through its eventual oil revenues. (New York Times, 9/10/03 and 9/18/03)


Student Reading 2:

What Solutions for Iraq?

In his September 7 speech, President Bush emphasized three objectives for Iraq: defeating terrorists, getting additional support from other countries, and helping the Iraqis take responsibility for their own country.

The fight against the terrorists is very difficult. Using classic guerrilla tactics, they have hit and run in sudden small-scale attacks, used mines on roads and made devastating truck bomb assaults on the Jordanian embassy, the United Nations headquarters, a leading Shiite cleric who was cooperating with the U.S., and a police headquarters. A dozen to 15 attacks take place daily, mainly in what is known as the Sunni Triangle, an area centering on Baghdad and fanning out northward to Tikrit and westward to Ramadi and Falluja, all areas where many Sunni Muslims live. Sunnis were the base of Saddam Hussein's power.

Farther north, in an area controlled by Kurdish supporters of the U.S., security has been much better. In the south the situation is relatively stable.

Non-coalition countries, including major European nations such as France and Germany and major Asian nations such as Turkey and India, have not provided support to the U.S. in Iraq. They insist that the United Nations should play a central role in helping rebuild Iraq, but the Bush administration has rejected this proposal.

There has been some progress in building an Iraqi police force, an army, and a government, but it is slow. Supporters of Saddam Hussein have to be weeded out and police and soldiers have to be trained. Achieving democracy has taken centuries in most places. Iraq has no tradition of democratic government. Its provisional Governing Council is appointed and controlled by American officials. How long it will be before an effective Iraqi government takes control is uncertain.

Given this situation in Iraq, the Bush administration policies have received increasing criticism. The New York Times editorialized: "The United States has no clear exit strategy from Iraq or immediate hope of a turnaround in a violent, complicated and expensive commitment. The hard realities of postwar Iraq have convinced Mr. Bush that he needs the United Nations support he snubbed before the invasion. Diplomats are wondering, with good reason, whether Mr. Bush is embarking on a new era of international cooperation or simply giving them permission to clean up his mess." (9/9/03)

Many Bush critics see no reasonable way out of the Iraq situation without giving significant authority for the political, economic, and military situation to the United Nations. Stephen Wait, academic dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, writes: "The most promising 'exit strategy' would begin by creating a true multinational force. To do this will require a new United Nations resolution, which is the price that other states have put on sending their own troops into a war zone. The Bush administration is now pursuing this option, but still seems intent on retaining full control. This approach will not work because the countries whose help the U.S. needs have made it clear that they will not bail it out unless they are given a voice in Iraq's future....The U.S. should also accelerate its efforts to prepare Iraqi forces that can take over from it. The goal should not be to create democracy: that is up to the Iraqi people and is likely to take decades....Looking for the exit sign is not heroic and it will not be appealing to many Americans. But the cruel fact is that the U.S. simply does not have attractive options at this point. When you make a big mistake, bad choices are usually all that remain." (Financial Times, 9/7/03)

Stephen Zunes, Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project, writes: "The United States is widely perceived by most Iraqis and other Middle Easterners as being less interested in the well-being of the Iraqi people than it is in the advancement of American political, military, and economic interests in the region....Administration by the UN—which represents the entire international community, including eighteen Arab states—is less likely to be seen as a foreign military occupation than as a transitional administration, and is therefore less likely to encourage armed opposition....The Iraqi government that would emerge under UN trusteeship would be far more credible, both inside and outside Iraq, than one set up by U.S. occupation authorities...." (Peacework, 9/03)

President Bush and others in the U.S. leadership reject such views. Paul Bremer, the top American administrator in Iraq, has said that many of the problems there result from decades of neglect by Saddam Hussein. He has also said, "Freedom matters. It is important to remember this and look beyond the shootouts and the blackouts, and remind ourselves of the range of rights that Iraqis enjoy today because of the coalition's military victory." He adds, "Most of the country is at peace." (8/12/03)

President Bush, in his September 7 speech, announced that "Already more than 90 percent of towns and cities have functioning local governments, which are restoring basic services." He stands firm on his views 1) that the U.S. eliminated a brutal and dangerous tyrant and regime when a number of U.S. allies refused to help; 2) that in calling for UN control, other countries are really more concerned about their own economic and political interests than they are about Iraq's. He believes that what the U.S. is doing will eventually succeed. He sees Iraqi citizens as providing more and more support for U.S. efforts by providing intelligence and volunteering for police and military forces. He believes the potential for a free and responsible Iraq to serve as a guiding light to other Middle Eastern countries is immense and worthy of the effort the U.S. is making.

Will the Bush administration continue on its present course? Will it reach out to the UN in ways other nations find acceptable? The only certainty in the effort to create a new Iraq seems to be that it will be time-consuming, difficult, dangerous, and expensive.


Classroom Activities



Student Reading 1

1. What are student questions about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. Why does violence in Iraq continue?

3. Why does President Bush regard creating a new Iraq with free institutions "critical to our own security"?

4. Why have ordinary Iraqis become resentful toward the U.S.?

5. What signs of progress are there in the country?

6. What is the disagreement over a UN role in Iraq?

7. Why is President Bush asking Congress to approve $87 billion for Iraq?

8. What questions are there about this request?

9. What do you think Congress should do?

Student Reading 2

1. What are student questions about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. What are major problems in Iraq?

3. Why are there criticisms of Bush administration policies there?

4. What are these criticisms?

5. How justifiable do you think they are?

6. Why does the Bush administration reject them?

7. What are the Bush administration's views about how to deal with Iraq?



1. Have students play "the believing game" and then "the doubting game" with either Bush administration policies or criticisms of them or both. See "Teaching Critical Thinking" on this website for details.

2. Involve students in a "constructive controversy." Divide them into groups of four, forming two pairs within each group. Ask each pair to take opposite positions on the following question:

Should the U.S. agree to a central role for the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq's economic and political system?

Give students an appropriate amount of time in which to prepare their arguments and to consult with their partner. They should feel free to consult with pairs from other teams.

Review or teach active listening skills, particularly paraphrasing and summarizing another's position; open-mindedness; being able to disagree respectfully; consensus-building skills; skills for working together.

After students have prepared themselves, the pairs in each group should present their case to the other pair in a clearly stated amount of time and without interruption.

Each side should be provided time to challenge the other side's argument without interruption.

The four students should decide which arguments are most valid on each side and prepare a concise presentation to the class that incorporates the best thinking of the group.

After all the group presentations have been made, have the class work toward a statement on U.S. policy that embodies the best thinking of the class as a whole. A consensus is desirable but not essential.

(This activity is based on "Constructive Controversy" developed by David and Roger Johnson.)



The teacher may want to have students follow developments in Iraq and about Iraq over an extended period. A possible approach:

Divide the class into five groups and assign one of the following issues to each:

a. Violence in Iraq

b. Progress in rebuilding Iraq—e.g., its oil industry, its infrastructure

c. Progress in developing a democratic Iraq

d. The role of the UN in Iraq

e. Congressional debate and decisions about Iraq

Have students follow news reports on their issue regularly in a specific news source.*

Provide 15 minutes weekly for meetings in which groups can meet and share each member's findings.

Provide additional time for students in each group, on a rotating basis, to summarize those findings for the class and to discuss them together.

*Assign a diverse set of news sources in each group. For example:

a. a local newspaper
b. a mainstream TV news source, network or cable
c. an alternative news source (e.g., WBAI,, or The Nation)
d. an Arab news source See (navigator), and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee ( for suggestions.


1. Have students write letters to their representatives and senators as well as to the President expressing their views on Iraq policies.

2. Help students organize a learn-in about Iraq policies involving students, parents, and officials in discussions and workshops. The proposed "constructive controversy" question might serve to focus the learn-in. Consider involving students from other high schools.

3. Help students organize a "U.S. international policy club" for regular meetings, discussions, and actions.


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