Iraq: November 2009

Christian Peacemaker Teams - Iraq

Delegation Report - 7-21 November 2009

 

Table of Contents
1.  Introduction
 

2.  Amman

2.1.  Delegation Orientation
2.2.  CPT‘s Former Landlord  
2.3.  Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

3.  CPT-Iraq Team Orientation  

4.  The Prison Museum and Kurdistan Human Rights Watch

4.1.  Prison Museum in Silêmanî
4.2.  Kurdistan Human Rights Watch

5.  Barzan Cemetery
6.  Turkish Border Region
7.  Nature Iraq and the PCDK

7.1.  Nature Iraq
7.2.  PCDK

8.  Irani Border Region  
9.  Halabja
Appendix A  

 
1.  Introduction

We travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan to gain a perspective on the challenges facing people in
northern Iraq by meeting with representatives of NGOs and human rights groups, displaced
persons, and government officials. When the security situation in southern and central Iraq
deteriorated as a result of the 2003 US-led invasion, thousands of people who had been
displaced by the fighting fled to the KRG-controlled area in the north. More recently,
northern border villages have been attacked by Turkey and Iran’s armed forces. We also
participated in the work of CPT-Iraq‘s longer-term project of networking and human rights
reporting.
 
The delegation participants were Kathleen O’Malley (delegation leader), Mabel Brunk and
Harmeet Sooden.

2.  Amman
Dates: 8 and 9 November 2009

2.1.  Delegation Orientation
The day following our arrival in Amman, we held an orientation session. The topics covered
included our backgrounds, the delegation schedule (see Appendix A), security protocols,
understanding trauma, the process observer role, the important role of the UN in the conflict,
CPT‘s “undoing racism” programme and the delegation report.


2.2.  CPT’s Former Landlord
We then visited the home of CPT‘s former Baghdadi landlord, an affluent Christian
businessman. He told us of his near-abduction in 2004. The following year, his wife and
daughter were victims of an armed robbery. They relocated to Jordan soon afterwards. Now
his wife says, “I have no home.” They both believe that the US military has exacerbated pre-
existing sectarian divisions in Iraq and that living conditions in Baghdad are worse now than
under the despised Saddam regime. In 2005 he said, “Iraqi common sense will prevail in the
end.” He remains optimistic. He introduced to us a friend who was abducted by insurgents as
she was being evacuated from Fallujah and held for 18 hours in November 2004, just before
US bombing destroyed much of the city. She was working for a foreign embassy. While her
face showed no emotion, her clenched hands told of her untreated trauma.

2.3.  Iraqi Refugees in Jordan
We met with Ms F of the Women’s Federation of World Peace, an NGO that provides
development assistance to refugees. She introduced us to Iraqi families who have fled to
Jordan. They mostly represent Iraqis from central and southern Iraq, and are from diverse  
backgrounds: some well-to-do, some poor, some highly educated, some artisans and of
various religious affiliations. All agreed that the UN could do more for them. Unfortunately,
this delegation tried to arrange a meeting with a representative of the UNHCR as part of
CPT’s ongoing effort to influence UN policy—unfortunately we were unsuccessful this time.
 
The families’ tales are harrowing. We were told of a family that was forced to watch the
father being murdered, not by a gunshot to the head but with hammers and an electric drill.
Three of his sons were taken away and have not been heard from since. This is still
happening in Iraq (though security conditions have improved since the height of the
internecine conflict in 2006-7).  
 
We met a young man, Mr A, who is married with two small children. He survived a bomb
blast in a market in 2007. His wounds requiring nearly 20 operations are hideous: chunks of
muscle and tissue missing, so is his right eye. His “past” and health problems, however, are
not his main concern; he is more worried about food and security for his family. They are
struggling in Jordan where, like many Iraqis, they do not have refugee status.
 
We met a Shi'a family of academics originally from Basra. Ms Y has a PhD in Physics but no
job prospects. Her thesis is dedicated to her brothers, two killed during the Saddam era, two
in the post-invasion period. Referring to her current situation, she said: “We have suffered
from Iraq too much. This is slow die. This is only for my children—there is nothing for me.”
She truly believes that they were better off under Saddam.

3.  CPT-Iraq Team Orientation

Date: 10 November 2009
 
We arrived in Silêmanî in the afternoon. We were introduced to the Team, given a brief
overview of the Team‘s work in Iraqi Kurdistan and discussed the delegation schedule.
 
After the CPT hostage crisis was resolved in 2006, CPT-Iraq left Baghdad and soon
thereafter relocated to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Team is currently involved in documenting
human rights violations against civilian populations and advocating for the rights of displaced
persons. CPT recently published their findings in a report entitled “Cross-border bombings
and shellings of villages in the Kurdish region of Iraq by the nations of Turkey and Iran”.  
 
4.  The Prison Museum and Kurdistan Human Rights Watch
Date: 11 November 2009

4.1.  Prison Museum in Silêmanî

We visited the Prison Museum in Silêmanî, originally a prison where the Saddam regime
incarcerated and tortured the Kurds. These crimes are uncannily similar to those being
committed at prisons like Abu Ghraib and Guantànamo. We were also joined by a woman
whose son was tortured and killed here. All she received in the end were her son’s torn
clothes. At the end of the tour we were told that the husband of our translator, Ms P, was
interned in this very prison. We were invited to her home for dinner later that evening.
 
Western governments were aware of these atrocities and continued to support the government
that committed them.

4.2.  Kurdistan Human Rights Watch

We met with Ms V of Kurdistan Human Rights Watch. This organisation provides an wide
range of services: women’s prison vocational training, a legal aid centre, a protection
assistance centre in Kirkuk, health clinics, rebuilding homes, water projects, awareness-
raising about women’s rights. The commitment of the KHRW staff is inspiring. We in the
West could learn much about anti-patriarchal strategies from women’s groups in Iraq.

5.  Barzan Cemetery

Date: 12 November 2009
 
We visited the Barzan Cemetery. The remains of several hundred of the Barzani clan who
were executed by the Saddam regime were exhumed and reburied here. Bodies are still being
relocated to their homeland from other parts of Iraq. The cemetery is not only a memorial to
the suffering of the Kurdish people but also a commemoration of the resilience of this
Kurdish clan that came under especially harsh treatment at the hands of the Saddam regime.
The cemetery has a wider significance for us: it symbolises the futility and horror of war.

6.  Turkish Border Region
 
Dates: 13 and 14 November 2009
 
We visited two Kurdish villages, Bamarnê and Trwanish, near the Turkish border that have
been affected by Turkish artillery barrages and aerial bombardment, and the activities of the
Turkish military operating from bases inside Iraqi Kurdistan. This trip was part of CPT’s  
ongoing project of documenting the human rights situation in Kurdistan. The villagers want
the KRG to facilitate the removal of all Turkish bases from their lands and press all foreign
countries to stop interfering in their affairs. Turkey is a key US ally.

7.  Nature Iraq and the PCDK

Date: 15 November 2009

7.1.  Nature Iraq
We visited Nature Iraq in Silêmanî. Their mandate is to improve the capacity of Iraq‘s
institutions to protect the environment by providing scientific expertise and raising
environmental awareness in general. Nature Iraq believes that Iraq is facing an environmental
crisis of proportions far greater than that of the security situation: while the world‘s focus is
on security in Iraq, more deaths are caused by environmental factors. The environmental
concerns are double: natural and political. Firstly, Iraq is currently affected by drought.
Secondly, Turkey, Syria, Iran and even different regions within Iraq are engaged in a “war on
water”, all vying for control over water resources.  

7.2.  PCDK
The team invited to the CPT apartment two women who are members of PCDK
(Reconciliation Democratic Party of Kurdistan), a legal party in Iraqi Kurdistan that speaks
on behalf of the Kurds of Turkey. They explained that the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party)
continues to be outlawed in Turkey even though it now advocates a peaceful resolution to the
problems between the Turkish Government and the Kurds of Turkey. It demands that the
Kurdish identity be recognised in the Turkish constitution: the right to speak their language in
public institutions and full civil rights as Turkish citizens. It is listed as a terrorist
organisation by a number of states and organisations, including the US, UN, NATO and EU.
They claimed that while many Turks wish to resolve the “Kurdish question”, there is no such
will in the Turkish Government. When asked what the US could do for the Kurdish people of
Turkey, they answered with a proverb: “Don‘t make trouble for us, and we won‘t need any
help.”

8.  Irani Border Region

Dates: 16 and 17 November 2009
 
We travelled to the Irani border region to investigate how Irani military activity is affecting
villagers in the area. The area was heavily mined during the Iran-Iraq war. We visited an
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Zharawa set up by UNHCR. The villagers have
fled their villages as a result of shelling (rocket fire) from Iran. Their living conditions are
very poor. We then went to one such village, Kani Spi, which has been attacked as recently as  
August of this year. Some say that Turkey provides aerial surveillance intelligence to Iran.
Iran‘s attacks are sometimes immediately preceded by over-flights by Turkish planes.
 
The mayor of Choman, founder of the Soran Association Care for the Handicapped
(SACH), hinted that Turkey and Iran are trying to handle the PKK in much the same way as
the Saddam regime tried to with the Peshmerga: instead of addressing the genuine concerns
of the Kurds, the regime attempted to destroy the popular base for the Peshmerga,
culminating in the al-Anfal Campaign. The Peshmerga sustained by the productive and
mountainous terrain continued to fight.
 
The villagers are asking the KRG for compensation to cover damages, investment in
infrastructure and services, and to bring about the end of Turkish and Irani military activity.
The Kurds fear the withdrawal of US troops from central and southern Iraq and also the
Syria-Turkey-Iran alliance against the Kurds.

9.  Halabja
Date: 18 November 2009
 
The delegation visited Halabja, a town that was attacked with chemical weapons by
Saddam‘s regime in 1988. Thousands of people were killed instantly, their bodies disfigured
to the point of being unrecognisable. We heard the testimonies of several survivors. The
stories and images of the incident are affecting. Irani soldiers (Iran was at war with Iraq)
saved the lives of many Halabja residents.
 
All the people we spoke with mentioned that the Saddam regime produced and used chemical
weapons with US support and approval. A further insult to them was the US government‘s
attempt to use the Halabja tragedy to justify its illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Nevertheless,
they were grateful that the US had ousted the Ba'athist regime. Their future is precarious and
they are under no illusions about US designs in the region.  


Appendix A
Table 1:  CPT Iraq Delegation November 2009
Tentative Schedule – Draft 3

Tues 10 Nov

Afternoon - arrive Suli 4pm; orientation to house; settle in

Evening - worship; review schedule; meet with team

 

Wed 11 Nov

Morning - Bazaar; change money; prison museum

Afternoon - vist Kurdistan Human Rights Watch

Evening - worship; debrief; prepare for trip

 

Thurs 12 Nov

Morning - travel to Barzan

Afternoon - visit cemetery

Evening - motel in Amedi

 

Fri 13 Nov

Morning - travel to Kane Mase via Bamarne and Turkish military base

Afternoon - visit Merkegia; meet with Muktar and families

Evening  - motel in Amedi

 

Sat 14 Nov

Morning - travel to Erbil/Hawler

Afternoon - vist Citadel; return to Suli

Evening - worship; debrief trip

 

Sun 15 Nov

Morning - visit Nature Iraq

Afternoon - meet with mountain folk

Evening - worship; debrief; prepare for trip

 

Mon 16 Nov

Morning - travel to Zharawa

Afternoon - visit IDP camp; hear stories of refugees

Evening - motel in Rawandez

 

Tues 17 Nov

Morning - travel to Kani Spi, meet with Muktar and villagers

Afternoon - return to Suli

Evening - worship; debrief trip

 

Wed 18 Nov

Morning - travel to Halabja, visit memorial

Afternoon - hear stories of chemical attack; return to Suli

Evening - worship; debrief trip

 

Thurs 19 Nov

Morning - worship; debrief delegation

Afternoon - depart Suli 1 pm