Videos of Manal




  • Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity-My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos
    Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity-My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos
    by Manal Omar
  • Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak
    Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak
    Beacon Press

Honoring Veterans, Baghdad Memories

As we commemorate the sacrifices made by our veterans this week, let’s take a moment and recall that Veteran’s Day is a day of hope and to recognize our soldiers for the hopeful work they do for civilians around the globe. 

Although our military has been solidly engaged in humanitarian work for a long time, our national conversation on war often overlooks this aspect of the U.S. military’s presence on the ground around the world.

For good reasons, a firewall has always existed between the warriors engaged in active combat and the humanitarians who tend to the needs of war’s victims. That wall has been degrading as the enemy -- increasingly non-state actors -- deliberately operate in places with large civilian populations. Additionally, civilian aid workers now often arrive so early on the ground that the threat environment is still acute when they begin their work. The space between civilian and military in conflict zones has shrunk considerably, as the two worlds are inevitably thrown together in the field and the military now works in conjunction with non-military organizations to improve the lives of non-combatants.

A couple of years into the occupation of Iraq I helped establish and direct a women’s center in Baghdad. On one typically hot and sunny day in Baghdad, Captain Evans Hanson of the U.S. army approached me with an offer I wanted to refuse. He proposed to help in any way I liked to improve the center with new equipment and other support for the living conditions of the women who worked there. The women, war weary and suspicious, asked me to decline the support. The rules most humanitarian organizations worked under at the time delineated a distinct separation of humanitarian and military, so I curtly replied that the only way he could help was to stay as far away from my work as possible. Fortunately, Captain Hanson was unrelenting. He remained respectful of our request to keep a distance, but stayed in touch with me via phone and email to let me know he was always available if needed. Two months later I discovered a timed explosive outside the front gates of the center. I made a decision to evacuate the building, but was untrained in which steps to take next. I called Captain Hanson. His response saved our lives. He provided me with clear instructions and then he sent his team to diffuse the threat.

Captain Hanson continued to work around my resistance and concerns but eventually we developed a highly productive working relationship. We all felt safer when the U.S. Army built a security wall around the center. He understood the need not to be visible. To avoid the complications of bringing in foreign contractors, he hired Iraqi contractors. Like so many others in the military, Captain Hanson recognized the importance of developing and maintaining civilian infrastructures in order to win wars and keep people safe.

A recipient of numerous awards for valor, including the Bronze Medal, Captain Hanson died tragically in South Korea last year, the victim of friendly fire. On Veteran’s Day I take a few moments to honor and remember Captain Hanson, whose character and accomplishments are why the day is one of hope, not despair.

Our military’s concern for civilian stability in theatres of combat has yielded significant results, and is now an integral part of America’s overall security strategy. In Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Ministry of Defense Advisors (MoDA) has partnered military advisors with Afghan counterparts to help strengthen Afghanistan’s core bureaucratic competencies. This kind of civilian-military relationship is vital to the fortification of Afghanistan’s national security, which is as much about peace-building as it is about combat. The stronger the government in Afghanistan, the more stable an environment, and the less likely that U.S. forces need to remain in the country.

Our soldiers have also been active in building civilian infrastructure in places like East Africa, where some regional extremist groups have taken root. Military personnel from the U.S. Central Command’s Combined Joined Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) have helped build schools and water supplies in countries like the Republic of Djibouti. This has helped to win the hearts and minds of civilians in the area, integral to the ultimate goal of mitigating threats of terrorism in the region.

The list goes on.

We must honor our troops’ sacrifice by remembering that the work they do is a source of great inspiration and hope. Though the nature of war has changed along with the methods of attaining victory, our veterans have adapted bravely to evolving circumstances. This Veteran’s Day, I think of Captain Hanson’s wife and two daughters. His family inspired him to offer me a hand. Let us honor the sacrifice of so many military families by recognizing the totality of their achievements.


Libya Will Not be Another Iraq

September 2012 | Olive Branch Post by Manal Omar

This is the mantra I started repeating last week. It was the only way I could bear the calls, emails, and posts I was receiving from my Libyan friends. The news didn’t only shock me, but it had the potential to devastate me. After a year of traveling across Arab Spring countries, Libya had become my anchor amid the chaos. Despite the many challenges the country faced, I always left feeling hopeful and cautiously optimistic.

The attack on the U.S. consulate, and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, threatened to stifle all hope within me. I could not bear the idea that Libya could dissolve into conflict led by violent religious extremism. I had spent the past year insisting that Libya would have its happily ever after. I was not blind to the enormous challenges that lay ahead, but I simply believed that Libya had all the right ingredients to overcome them.

Read on...


Network of Iraqi Facilitators (NIF) and Alliance of Iraqi Minorities

September 2012 | Olive Branch Post by USIP Staff

The USIP Baghdad Office (BDO) earlier this month hosted a meeting between USIP President- select Jim Marshall, Senior Vice President of the Center for Conflict Management Abiodun Williams, and members from the Network of Iraqi Facilitators (NIF) and Alliance of Iraqi Minorities (AIM). USIP is supporting efforts by NIF and AIM members to defuse escalating conflicts between minority groups residing within the disputed internal boundaries of the Ninawa governorate in northern Iraq.  

Continuing conflicts between Shabak Muslims and Christians can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as job opportunities and public services, which spurred some Shabaks to migrate into the historically Christian enclave of Bartella.  As more and more Shebaks migrated from the countryside into the urbanized Bartella, Christians feared a demographic shift that could threaten their way of life, especially their religious rituals and traditions.

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In Libya, Success May Be the Best Revenge

August 2012 | Olive Branch Post by Manal Omar

While most of my friends have been glued to the computer for the results of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, I have been unable to turn away from Libya’s transitional process.

The August 8th ceremony marking the transfer of power from the National Transitional Council was the first peaceful power transfer in Libya's modern history. That in itself is cause for excitement.

But there is more. The recent election for president was also an emotional moment for me. I have spent a lifetime watching intellectuals and nationalists forced to leave their homelands due to dictatorships. For many Libyans, like newly elected President of the General National Congress, Mohammed al-Magariaf, this has come at a personal cost for them and their families.

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Women and the Arab Spring

November 2011

Chairwoman Boxer, Chairman Casey and members of the two subcommittees, it is an honor to appear before you today to present my views on the role of women in the Arab Spring, specifically in Libya. The views I express today are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), which does not take policy positions.

I currently direct USIP’s programs on Iraq, Iran and North Africa. My views are informed by my work at USIP which conducts training and field operations and provides tools to help prevent, manage and end violent international conflicts. USIP has been working on the ground in Libya since early this spring, engaging with the burgeoning civil society sector and serving in an advisory role to the Libya Stabilization Team formed by the National Transitional Council (NTC). USIP is also training Libyan civil society leaders in conflict management skills to build local capacity to manage the transition out of conflict and the difficult task of national reconciliation. USIP knows that this is an essential activity following conflict.

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