Looking for Signs of Peace in Iraq

At Peace Magazine we get regular e-mails from David Milne with almost daily reports by on-site members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) from the hot-spots of violence in the world.
CPT is an international organization that sends small teams of trained peacemakers into areas of armed conflict around the world. It has maintained a nonviolent presence in Iraq since October 2002. The team works in collaboration with Iraqi peace and human rights groups.
We have selected portions of three reports that we think give an insight into the courageous work of CPT and the appalling environment they work in to witness for peace and hope.

By Tom Fox, Joe Carr, Sheila Provencher | 2005-07-01 12:00:00

It was a Fairly Quiet Day in Baghdad


17 May 2005.

In Baghdad today, four clerics (three Sunni and one Shi'a) were assassinated. The bodies of two other Sunni clerics who had been abducted last week were found. A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle in the Abu Cher market, killing nine Iraqi National Guard troops and injuring 28 civilians. Two engineering students were killed when a bomb (or rocket) struck their classroom at a local school. The dean of a high school in the Shaab neighborhood was assassinated. One judge, two officials from the Ministry of Defense and one official investigating corruption in the previous Interim Government were assassinated. In all, 31 dead, 42 injured and 17 abducted. Rumors abound in Baghdad about who is responsible for all the attacks but no one has claimed responsibility. And yet, compared to some days in recent weeks here in Baghdad, the number of dead and injured was fewer. So comparatively speaking it was a fairly quiet day here in Baghdad. Children walked to their schools and people went to work. Shops opened for business and the seemingly endless parade of military, police, and private security vehicles went about their business.

Imagine if these events took place in one day in Washington, D.C. or London, England. A state of emergency would be declared (Baghdad has been under a state of emergency for almost six months) and martial law would be imposed. Many civilians would probably stay home and some might leave the area. There would be nothing else on the media except coverage of the bloodshed. Life as normal would cease, as the populace would look to their government for leadership in bringing the chaos under control. The populace would demand that this complete breakdown of the social fabric be mended immediately. But eventually the populace would look for answers. Why did these horrible events transpire? What led up to this total meltdown of civil society? Who created this nightmare situation?

Why? What? Who?

The 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described the ultimate nightmare of any society as being "the war of all against all." Such is the state of existence here in Iraq. When the US-led invasion tore away the façade of the state of Iraq, a torrent of religious, ethnic, tribal, and cultural tensions that had existed for generations was unleashed. I have not heard one person say that Saddam was a wise or revered leader. But I have heard many people say that while they lived under the threat of violence with Saddam, they prefer that life to the bloodshed, chaos, and anarchy that surrounds them now.

No one seems to offer a solution that does not entail more guns, more restrictions on basic human rights, more soldiers, more barbed wire and concrete barricades, more "security" and less freedom. Sooner or later the insurgency will run out of suicide bombers and weapons. Sooner or later the ringleaders will be captured or killed. But what will remain will be one of most restrictive, oppressive police states in the world.

"Spreading freedom and democracy." "The war of all against all." It was a fairly quiet day in Baghdad.

Fallujah: An Unnatural Disaster


28 May, 2005

Fallujah is devastating to drive through. There is more destruction and rubble than I've ever seen -- even more than in Rafah, Gaza. The US has leveled entire neighborhoods, and about every third building is destroyed or damaged from the US air and ground assaults of April and November of 2004. Rubble and bullet holes are everywhere. The city looks like it's been hit by a series of tornados.

We visited a family's home in a neighborhood where every structure is damaged or destroyed. Their home was full of holes and completely black inside from fire. They said that they'd left during the fighting with their home intact, and returned to find all of their possessions had burned. Three families, more than 25 people, including four infants, now live in this three-room burned-out shell of a home.

US checkpoints continue to strangle the city. One shopkeeper said that farmers from around Fallujah can no longer deliver their produce unless they have a US-issued Fallujah ID. The shopkeepers now have to go out and pick up the produce. He said it takes him around four hours because of the checkpoint delays. "They mistreat us," he said. "They point guns at us and insult us, even the women." He said that both US and Iraqi troops search through the vegetables roughly, even dumping them on the ground and smashing them.

Iraqis from the rural areas surrounding Fallujah are now dying of treatable illnesses because they can't get through the checkpoints to the Fallujah hospital. One hospital employee said that many patients also die when they try to transfer them to hospitals outside Fallujah. "It's better to take them in a civilian car than in an ambulance," he said, "because the troops delay and search ambulances more."

A Sunni cleric told us that during the first invasion, several families near his Mosque took cover in a home. US troops used megaphones to order them all out into the street and told them to carry a white flag. They complied, but when they all got out, the soldiers opened fire and killed five. He said one boy had run to his mother who'd been shot, and Americans shot him in the head. He said he saw a U.S. commander cry as this happened, "but what good were his tears?" he asked, "He didn't do anything to stop it."

During our meeting with the cleric, a man told us, "The Americans shot and killed my 15-year-old daughter. Was she a terrorist?" He said the U.S. military denied killing her and refused to give him even minimal compensation. "With all respect to you," he said, "I hate Americans; they killed my family. They shot and killed my sister-in-law while she was washing clothes, and my other brother's hands and feet were blown off." He apologized for interrupting, but said that he had to tell us because he's in so much pain.

Someone once told me, "You can't bomb a resistance out of existence, but you can bomb one into it."

"Waiting" (Psalm 88)


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Last week I read a news report that said up to seven Iraqis are kidnapped every day. Today I found out that CPT's neighbor might be one of them. He was driving from Baghdad to Kirkuk when he disappeared. Sometimes kidnappers ask for ransom, sometimes thieves kill the victim and keep the money, phone, and car. It has been seven days since my neighbor disappeared.

He has three children: Mohammed (8) and Esam (6), my two miniature bodyguards who always insist on walking me down the street, and their sister Fatima (2). When I visited, their mother Um Mohammed sat on the living room floor and wept. The boys smiled hesitantly at me and did not know how to comfort her.

They have always welcomed me to their home. Now they are shattered. "Allah Kareem, Allah Kareem (God is generous)," whispered Um Mohammed's elderly mother. She begged CPT to pray for them. All they can do now is sit by the phone and wait.

These past days, large explosions have shaken our apartment. On Saturday we ran up to the roof to assess the damage. Black smoke billowed across the river. I have become numb to explosions, but this time I started weeping because I could tell from its size that people were dying. In fact, 70 people have died in Iraq these past three days.

Why is everything falling apart? From the perspective of the Western countries, it is easy to point at the Iraqi resistance, the foreign terrorists, the common thieves. And they surely cause terrible damage with the use of violence. But from the perspective of those who are bombed, what is the difference between an insurgency bomb dropped on my street and a US bomb dropped on a Fallujah clinic? An explosion is an explosion is an explosion. There is rhetoric of "good guys" and "bad guys," but from here it all feels meaningless in the rubble of a home bombed by US fighter jets, a school shattered by a terrorist attack, a kidnapped father, a child accidentally shot by Coalition soldiers. Violence begets violence begets violence. It is all starting to blend together.

It is difficult to find hope. But I hear that a sheikh in a violent Baghdad neighborhood is gathering people to do nonviolent resistance. Another Iraqi human rights worker and friend is building a network of local peace activists. And tomorrow I will visit Noor and Abu Zayneb to cuddle their three-month old treasure, baby Hamsa. She will be hope for now.

It is a dark time now. We live in constant Advent, waiting, waiting in the darkness.

*All names are changed.

Tunnel Vision


"Iraqis always seem to have lots of guns in their houses." A US Army colonel was referring to the prevalence of gun ownership in Iraq. We were meeting with him in his office in the Green Zone. Draped across his high back chair was an ornate leather holster with his service revolver.

"Our young technician can barely keep up with the demand." The colonel described the work of a sergeant who is an expert in constructing artificial limbs. The colonel said proudly that no one in Iraq has the equipment or expertise that this young man has. Yet there did not seem to be an acknowledgement of why there is such a demand for artificial limbs in Iraq at this time.

"The Iraqi NGOs we work with have a lot of trouble developing a level of trust between them." He noted that when his office organizes a conference of NGOs in the Green Zone often they don't want to follow the set agenda but need to express their lack of trust for the US military and for each other. Yet he failed to mention the years of totalitarian rule by Saddam followed by two years of anarchy, neither of which would tend to develop trust in any institutions.

"All of us took a nine-hour seminar on understanding Iraqi culture when we got here a year ago." The colonel said his unit would be going home at the end of the month after a year in Iraq. As is the case with many US military and civilians working in the Green Zone, the colonel said he has never set foot on a street in Baghdad. He has never been inside the home of an Iraqi family nor has he seen any of the historical or cultural sites of the country.

It would seem easy to characterize the colonel as hypocritical and bigoted. I am not the greatest judge of character but I kept having an image of him on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon peering through a tube from a roll of paper towels and describing what he saw. We are all finite creatures with a very limited field of vision. But what I do (and it is my sense that the colonel does this also) instead of opening up my field of vision to include things that I don't understand or agree with is to make my field of vision even narrower.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

"Out of sight, out of mind" is an old saying that's apt in this case. The colonel seemed confident that the vision of the world he described was an accurate and complete one. And this was true. Within his extremely limited world-view, his vision was indeed clear. But what about the vast universe he was not seeing? What about the vast universe I'm not seeing? How do we expand to see things we don't want to see? How do we stop putting "out of sight" things we don't agree with? I wish I had an answer but I don't even know where to start.

To learn more about Christian Peace Teams, please visit www.cpt.org. More photos may be viewed at www.cpt.org/gallery/.

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2005

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2005, page 15. Some rights reserved.

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