19 Years After the Invasion: A Reflection on the U.S. Military Presence in Iraq

Nineteen years ago the Bush administration launched the invasion of Iraq under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction which was later proven false. While the invasion of Iraq removed Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship from power, it also unleashed an era of sectarian violence, extremism, and abuses.  The U.S. war in Iraq is now synonymous with an ill-planned interventionism, a boondoggle.  4,418 U.S. service members were killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and another 107 in Operation Inherent Resolve. Approximately another thousand U.S. service members lost their lives in non-hostile incidents while supporting U.S. military actions in Iraq. Between 184,382 to 207,156 Iraqis were killed throughout the conflict. Incidents such as the Haditha massacre, in which U.S. Marines killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, and the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib tarnished the reputation of the U.S. military. De-Baathification, perceived sectarian marginalization, and fighting in al-Anbar province later contributed to the rise of ISIS. Nearly two decades later, U.S. troops remain in Iraq under attenuated Congressional authorizations. As we look back on the past nineteen years with the gift of hindsight, we should consider the ways in which the military-industrial complex and foreign policy establishment influenced our continued occupation. And more importantly, hear from those directly affected by this conflict: veterans, military families, and Iraqi civilians.  Join us for a panel discussion with International Activist Dina Al Bayati, who lived through the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, Brandi Jones, Marine spouse and Organizing Director of the Secure Families Initiative, and Iraq war veterans: Dan Caldwell, a former Marine who now serves as Vice President of Foreign Policy for Stand Together, Joanna Sweatt, a former Marine who now serves as National Field Manager for Common Defense, and U.S. Army veteran Naveed Shah, Political Director of Common Defense. Quincy Institute Research Fellow Adam Weinstein will moderate.


Naveed Shah

Naveed Shah is a veteran of the U.S. Army and Operation Iraqi Freedom. After serving on active duty for four years, including a 12 month tour in Iraq, Naveed returned to his home state of Virginia for undergraduate studies and began volunteering with veterans groups. For the past 10 years, Naveed has been involved in building political power for veterans across the nation. This led to a legislative and advocacy fellowship with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America in 2012. In 2016, the First Lady invited Naveed to attend President Obama’s final State of the Union address, in recognition of his years of work on veterans issues. In 2018, Naveed worked with the Virginia Democratic Party’s Mission First initiative to get veterans and military families involved in the political process. He joined Common Defense in 2019. He has been featured in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and ABC News. Naveed holds a B.S. from the University of Virginia where he studied Political Science.

Joanna Sweatt

Joanna Sweatt served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1998 - 2007 and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 during the initial invasion. The difficulties she faced in transitioning from the military to civilian life led her to become a vocal veteran advocate in the state of Arizona, supporting marginalized populations of veterans including women, Native Americans, and Black veterans. She holds a B.A. from Arizona State University and is deeply involved in Arizona political activities. She is a freelance writer for Freedom Sisters Magazine and has been featured in Vice News, PBS, New York Times, and McClatchy DC Bureau.

Dan Caldwell

Dan Caldwell is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and Operation Iraqi Freedom and Vice President of Foreign Policy for Stand Together. Dan is also the executive director for Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). Prior to joining CVA in 2013, Dan worked for Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ). Dan originally was a constituent caseworker focused on resolving constituents’ issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense and eventually was promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff. Additionally, in 2012, Dan managed the successful re-election campaign of Congressman Schweikert in one of the most intense incumbent versus incumbent races of the 2012 election cycle.

Brandi Jones

Brandi Jones is the proud wife of a United States Marine for nearly two decades, and she has been volunteering in the community for over the last 17 years. She’s been recognized as AFI Naval Postgraduate School Monterey Military Spouse of the Year and A Hero at Home, as well as a recipient of the Opening Doors Award from the Girl Scouts. The business Brandi created in 2010 in support of military families was recognized by then Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden. Brandi volunteered her time to create time-tested programs that served thousands of military families that are still in place almost a decade later to foster inclusion and diversity in schools. She is a Transitional Kindergarten teacher, community organizer, advocate, publisher, and writer. Brandi received a B.S. from Liberty University.

Dina Al Bayati

Dina Al Bayati is an international activist and independent consultant focused on peace and security, human rights, and youth empowerment and development in the Middle East and North Africa regions. Dina lived her childhood throughout the US-Iraq war and this experience drove her to use her experience to empower others. Dina mobilizes national and international grassroots and grasstops by education, social awareness, bridging organizations and resources, campaigns, and social media engagement. Dina led activism, advocacy, and policy efforts to mobilize political, social, and human rights awareness by engaging youth, activists, media, NGOs, political leaders, and more institutions. She is an advocate and community leader with Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First. Dina is a recent graduate from the University of Houston’s Marilyn Davies College of Business.

Adam Weinstein (Moderator)

Adam Weinstein is a Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute. He previously worked for KPMG’s international trade practice. Adam’s current research focuses on security, trade, and rule of law in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is a member of the American Pakistan Foundation’s Leadership Council, and previously worked as senior law and policy analyst at the National Iranian American Council where he focused on the securitization of U.S. immigration policy and its effect on immigrant communities. He received a JD from Temple University Beasley School of Law with a concentration in international law and transitional justice. Adam served as a U.S. Marine and deployed to Uruzgan Province Afghanistan in 2012.