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Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Letter from Iraq: Christian peacemaker calls for 'another way'
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¬†American Christian peace campaigner Sheila Provencher, writes from Baghdad: "I do not understand why the Americans use such violence in Iraq. There are many ways to bring changes ≠ why are they doing it like this?" Sattar, a gentle Iraqi friend, speaks with quiet frustration. He has seen the worst. Last year during 'Shock and Awe' he volunteered in a hospital, treating civilian casualties. Last week, he went to Najaf to help set up home clinics. The war in Iraq is named 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'. Courageous young men and women have given their lives because they want Iraqis to be free. But ≠ from the perspective of many Iraqi people ≠ does this feel like liberation, or occupation? And if the latter is the case, what is to become of the young soldiers who are fighting and dying in a misled effort? I cannot claim to know what the Iraqi people think, but I can speak for the hundreds of Iraqis I have met on the streets, in churches and mosques, schools and homes, farming villages and cities. Most agree on several points. 1) They are glad that Saddam is gone. "I want to make a statue of Bush in Baghdad," says Sa'ad, the father of my host family. Although the bombs terrified his children and injured his daughter's friend, he is grateful for the result. 2) They now experience the US as occupiers rather than as liberators. The women of Abu Sifa, a farming village whose entire male population was detained by US troops, shook their fists and wept as they described the midnight raids that destroyed their homes. Coalition forces have imprisoned more than 35,000 people without trial in the last year. A Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) official recently said to us: "there are thousands of Iraqis in prison who should be in their homes right now." 3) They abhor the violent response of the US-led forces to the recent uprisings. Many Iraqis disagree with the violent tactics of the mujahadeen and Moqtada al-Sadr. But they say the US is pouring gasoline on the fire. My friend Musa, who was tortured by Saddam and who was ecstatic when the troops first arrived, recently saw helicopters spraying bullets into the streets of Sadr City. Musa's friend died in the crossfire. "I hate Moqtada al-Sadr, but now I can say I hate what the Americans do, too." Hameed, a friend from Fallujah, has a ten-year-old son who was shot by US troops as he sat minding the family's sheep. Justified or not, does the US military's response lead to freedom and peace, or to more terror and violence? Omar, a wise neighbour who has lived through three wars, sums it up: "The Americans are making a mistake. These actions only create more terrorists." But none of the Iraqi people I know blame individual soldiers. Many express great concern for the young men and women in the armed forces. Musa tells about the time he took his daughter Fatima to the hospital. US troops stopped his car. But when they saw Fatima's illness, he said: "It was like she was their own daughter They are good people." And the American soldiers are suffering. A recent Army survey in Iraq found that nearly 75% of soldiers reported their battalion-level command leadership showed: "a lack of concern" for soldiers (Washington Post, March 26, 2004). The military has facilitated 18,004 evacuations of wounded or ill soldiers. But many of the injured then received tremendous pressure to return to Iraq (The Guardian, April 3rd, 2004). Several soldiers from the 442nd Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard are suffering from unexplained illnesses. Tests link their sicknesses to radioactive dust from depleted uranium shells used by US troops (Dominion Post Newspaper, April 5, 2004). Most painful of all, more than 700 men and women will never return: Sgt Gerardo Moreno, 23, of Dallas, TX; Pfc Christopher R. Cobb, 19, of Bradenton, FL; and Specialist Michelle Witmer, 20, of Brookfield, WI, whose unit just had their year-long tours extended for up to 120 days (New York Times, April 15, 2004). Sattar is right. There are other ways to effect change in Iraq. And there are other ways to support our troops. We could begin by listening to the people we are claiming to liberate. We could share power and decision-making at the grassroots level. And we could refuse to allow our political leaders to sacrifice generous young people, ordered to use methods that only increase the anger and terrorism they so much want to heal. 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 conflict around the world. CPT has been in Iraq since October, 2002.
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