One can’t think of Iraq today without picturing dusty soldiers, frightened children and wounded civilians, and it has become difficult to envision this country in happier times. Iraq was once the center of the Sumerian civilization — the earliest known civilization on Earth. It was the birthplace of the first writing system and the core of so many empires throughout history that it has been called the “cradle of civilization.” All this has been forgotten in light of recent circumstances and represents a history that Iraq’s current young generation can’t even imagine. Watching the protests in Libya on the news now makes me wonder what challenges this country will have to face, how its people will choose to proceed and if the face of this country will forever be scarred beyond recognition.

The recent protests in the Middle East and North Africa have been an eye opener for the world, making us aware of the injustice being done to the people in those countries. The peaceful protest that began in Tunisia in December sparked similar uprisings in 16 other countries in the region, and its effects were felt as far as China. Though these protests received violent reactions from the governments — especially in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — the uprising was necessary and inevitable. People deserve the rights they ask for.

Foreign countries have rightfully decided to step in and provide any possible support to the people of Libya. While some countries, including those of the European Union and Canada, have decided to support Libya in the form of humanitarian aid, the United States also has chosen to impose military pressure on Muammar Gaddafi, the leader of Libya for 42 years. More than 1,000 U.S. marines were stationed in warships off the coast of the island of Crete in the Mediterranean as of March 4, according to The Sacramento Bee. Souda Bay navy base spokesman Paul Farley explained in an arabnews.com article that this would give President Barack Obama “flexibility on a full range of options regarding Libya.”

Amid the threat of U.S. military action, the French government emphasized the importance of humanitarian aid over military action. The French are right. It’s important for foreign military to not interfere in the dealings of Libya and its people. We should offer help, but only in the way of providing our moral support, shelter to refugees, medical aid to the injured and imposing economic sanctions. Foreign military interference may prompt the emergence of nationalist groups as the true freedom of the country will again be questioned. This will increase the struggle of the people and deter the country’s recovery.

After the U.S. invaded Iraq on the pretext of secret nuclear weaponry, life in Iraq has become difficult. Granted, it was difficult even during the Iraq-Iran war and the invasion of Kuwait, but after the U.S. invasion and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the country has never been at peace. Civilian deaths due to bombings in Iraq have become an everyday phenomenon not worth more than a couple of minutes of coverage by news channels. Militant groups are a big cause of the instability in the country, but so is the prevalence of foreign military power. Iraq is currently stuck between militants killing anyone in their path and a foreign army claiming to protect the people, but instigating these militants at the same time. And this struggle has come so far that it’s not easy to understand what the country would be like without one of these forces.

While the Iraq invasion and military aid to Libya may arguably be very different, the outcome of foreign intervention in these countries might be quite similar. Libyans are fighting for themselves, and we should allow them to do so by themselves. Libya and its people will undoubtedly face a great struggle if or, as I believe, when Gaddafi is overthrown. The opportunity for a fresh start, and the process of launching a new government is when a country needs to make most sound decisions and needs to remain decisive and, most importantly, patient. This is also the time when nationalism, patriotism and self-reliance emerge as strong sentiments. A little bit of chaos in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s downfall is inevitable, but foreign military interference will not be welcomed.

It’s important for us to sympathize with the situation in Libya and understand the consequences of our actions. As we see Libyans fight for justice from the comfort of our homes, we should be willing to urge our government to take steps in the right direction. We are all witnesses to what the voice of a people can do, and we should make sure we don’t turn yet another nation into a battlefield.

Aida Ali is a senior editorial page editor.

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