Reflections on violence and nonviolence in Iraq

 Cliff Kindy, a Christian Peacemaker in Iraq, has sent this reflection Practical questions about handling a complex security situation often confront peacemakers and warriors. Is violence more effective than nonviolence? The city of Fallujah has been a burr under the saddle of the US occupation. Players in that drama chose their tools of change. Some precedents and stories place the options on the table. Najaf and the presence of Sadr militia groups guarding the shrine presented a complex problem for the US occupation. They decided to take control militarily with major air support and tanks and soldiers on the streets. Ayatollah Sistani, instead, called on Muslims to go to Najaf. That massive nonviolent crowd enabled the militia groups to withdraw without losing face and the US military to concede their tactics honourably. The friction de-escalated and the situation has achieved some normalcy. In Sadr City, resistance to the US occupation reached crisis proportions as US patrols and Shia militia groups fought over the city with civilians bearing the cost. The Iraqi government creatively offered money for guns; calm came to Sadr City. US forces invaded Fallujah in April 2004. The situation did not escalate because a compromise was reached as a former Iraqi general took responsibility for security in the city. As the violence escalated in recent weeks, a committee of religious, civilian, and military persons approached the United Nations to work out a nonviolent alternative to a US invasion. The Iraq interim government and the US occupation rejected this invitation as unworkable, so the invasion proceeded with accompanying deaths of US soldiers, civilians, and resistance fighters. The city is in a shambles and charges of human rights violations abound. Are there alternatives? First, a sustainable society at peace will require economic justice and personal rights such as life, health, education, freedom to participate in the political process, and employment. The focus for coalition forces in Iraq has been security. Seventy percent unemployment, a devastated infrastructure, and dismal prospects for a free election overwhelm the future. The basis for a sustainable peace is missing. Energies must be invested in rebuilding the society. Nonviolent options continue to be viable in all arenas. Those nonviolent options have the added bonus of NOT eliciting heavy casualties and NOT building communication barriers between conflicting parties. Nonviolence can transform conflicts as it reduces the power of armed actors and increases the power of nonviolent actors. Analysis can highlight the key groups within the violent structures and nonviolent actions can focus on changing the attitudes and activities of those groups. Coalitions of nonviolence can develop the direct actions that take the initiative from armed actors and empower those who nurture a society at peace. These coalitions must also take control of the decisions that impact their society. Nonviolence is viable and effective when based in the local community. Violence is often the choice of those who fear they don't have the popular support to act as they wish. "Choose life that you and your descendants can live." (Deuteronomy 30:19) Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical violence-reduction program Teams of trained peace workers live in areas of lethal conflict around the world. CPT has been in Iraq since October, 2002.

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