(March 13, 2007) — We got a call from a former neighbor in Baghdad who recounted the horror and pain she and her children experienced on the street near their home when a bomb exploded. Her son lost some teeth and they saw others injured and dead.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Iraq had planned to help train members of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in Najaf to be trainers in nonviolence, but after a member had been shot on the streets of Kerbala, the group was in mourning and needed to heal.
In Yezidi communities (an ancient Mesopotamian religious group) CPTers saw extreme poverty and heard people talk about the neglect they feel from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Central Iraqi Government, and US military in their area.
Human rights organizations in the KRG invited CPT to help them expose human rights violations with prisoners. Another organization invited CPT to help with nonviolence training in Kirkuk, but wanted to go with armed guards.
A refugee camp in northern Iraq that shelters Kurdish people who fled persecution in Turkey, endured a series of raids this past month. US soldiers and Kurdish military said they were looking for weapons and “terrorists,” but found neither.
In the Kurdish north and around the country of Iraq, we encounter much fear and mistrust between different religious and ethnic groups. People on either side of tensions say the other group wants to kill them.
The need for truth telling, support of nonviolent movements and ethnic and religious reconciliation, are great. Our team felt called to continue this work and so returned to the Kurdish north to explore possibilities and build collaborative relationships with people and organizations in this area. Violence prevention or reduction work would take us into situations of conflict, but we did not want our presence to put local people we work with in greater danger.
The team saw options for work, but had not yet found a clear, specific path, when an incident interrupted this process. In late January, Will Van Wagenen, two Iraqi associates, and I were abducted briefly in a Kurdish area outside the official KRG, and then released unharmed. The abduction has shaken the team and the organization. Because of the embarrassment this incident has caused them, Kurdish authorities have refused to complete CPT’s NGO application.
We want to respond responsibly, but not be dominated by fear. We all still feel a deep love for the Iraqi people. We know that the suffering and daily threat of violence Iraqis face have been so much greater than anything we have experienced. We don’t want our struggles to detract attention from their story.
The week before last, our team left Iraq to return home for healing, examination, and discernment. We continue to question whether or how we could responsibly work now in Iraq. Is it time to close the project? To withdraw for an indefinite time and return in the future if we are given a clear call and vision? We appreciate your continued prayers.
–Peggy Gish is a Church of the Brethren member and a longtime member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq. This report was issued March 9. Originally a violence-reduction initiative of the historic peace churches (Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker), CPT now enjoys support and membership from a wide range of Christian denominations. For more go to http://www.cpt.org/.