Sheila Provencher from the Christian Peacemaker Team in Baghdad send this report. "If you want, we will send security guards to protect you. Or, if you need weapons, we are happy to give you some weapons." Haider*, our friend who directs an Iraqi humanitarian NGO, speaks with complete earnestness. He, like many of our Iraqi friends, warns us that we are prime targets for kidnappers and terrorists. For our safety and theirs, they ask us not to visit their communities, to avoid certain areas of Baghdad, and not to travel anywhere alone. Often they suggest the "protection" of guns. "Would you like to use my Kalishnokov?" offers our landlord. Walking me home after a neighbour's birthday party, my young friends Hamoudi, 7, and Mustafa, 9, brandish their toy guns and promise to shoot anyone who tries to hurt me! My Iraqi host father has a small pistol as well as a Kalishnokov. "I hate this," he says. "But how else should I protect my family?" Mohammed, another CPT friend, echoes him almost word-for-word. He too has a handgun and an automatic weapon. Streets, homes, and businesses bristle with guns. But does their presence bring comfort or security? On the contrary: a 26-year-old Iraqi woman tells me that she is afraid to cross the city to her university. Hamoudi and Mustafa, my two miniature bodyguards, are so afraid of explosions they will not walk to the end of the street. Even at the neighbourhood church, if a dignitary happens to be worshipping, body-armoured guards stand at the doors. Young soldiers share the same combination of weaponry and fear. They sit atop tanks in the blistering sun, behind automatic weapons with incredible firepower; useless against IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that could claim their lives at any moment. Security contractors drive around in armoured SUV's that Iraqis jokingly call "shoot-me-cars" because they actually increase one's chance of getting attacked. People also carry guns with a strange nonchalance. An Army major whose primary job is to work at a non-profit Iraqi assistance agency still has a gun strapped to her leg. My Iraqi host father carries a pistol in his belt. Young militants from Sadr City tote automatic weapons. Young soldiers, male and female, walk through the hallways of Coalition Provisional Authority buildings with M-16s slung over their shoulders. Do they all realize what they carry is someone else's death? I try to tell our friend Haider that CPTers feel safer without guns. If we carry guns out of suspicion that someone will hurt us, we invite the worst. But if we are unarmed and open, there exists the possibility for human encounter, conversation, and transformation. Right now, possibilities for conversation seem slim. The guns and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) of teenage militants draw retaliatory slaughter from Coalition troops. The armed vehicles of Coalition convoys draw ambush from armed resisters. The other night, our friend Mohammed showed CPTer Greg Rollins how to dismantle his handgun. We all felt much better with the gun in pieces. How can we dismantle the fear and violence that rule so many hearts and minds today? * All names have been changed Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical violence-reduction program with roots in the historic peace churches. Teams of trained peace workers live in areas of lethal conflict around the world. CPT has been present in Iraq since October, 2002. For more details see: www.cpt.org.
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