Iraq

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Election Day (Part II)—an interrupted abduction




CPTers report abuses they witnessed on 30 April election at a 14 May
press conference in Suleimani

At the request of the police officer and the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) manager, two of our colleagues remained at the school mentioned in our previous release

My Kurdish female teammate and I went to observe a nearby voting station after having heard gunfire from that direction.  We arrived at the school ten minutes before the polls' closing time.  A group of men in military uniforms and armed with AK-47s blocked the entrance to the school.  An elegantly dressed man from the surrounding crowd approached us.  We could hear his anxiety as he said, “The situation here is very bad.  They should not be here.  We are not free.  This is not democracy.”  His words were supported by Iraqi electoral law, which grants authority for protecting the voting centers to civilian police, not military troops controlled by political parties.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Election day (Part 1)--Police ask international observers to protect them from Asaish Security Forces

On 30 April, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Iraqi Kurdistan coordinated a group of five volunteers —three Iraqi Kurds, a European and an American—to serve as observers for the first elections for the Iraqi Parliament since the U.S. Forces left the country.  Voters were also selecting representatives for the Administrative Councils of the three provinces under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).  Since September 2013, Iraqi Kurdistan politics have been in turmoil.  At that time, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) one of the two ruling parties that shared power in the KRG since 1991, lost its share in the Kurdistan Parliament to the Change (Gorran) movement, an opposition political group.  One of the last significant powers remaining in PUK hands was the control of the Provincial Council of Sulaimani.  In this election, the first in nine years, the PUK had much to lose.

In Sulaimani province, the Asaish (security forces/intelligence agency) fall under the control of the PUK.  The electoral law forbids the presence of the armed forces, except the police, inside the polling centers.  However, on this 30 April election day CPT observers visited five schools in and around Sulaimani city and found security forces armed with AK-47s positioned around or directly at the entrance of four schools as well as armed officers inside the three of them. 

CPT arrived at the fourth school in the late afternoon after having observed a group of about eight men armed with handguns and AK-47s walk out of a nearby PUK office and gather near the school's entrance.  The men appeared to be observing the CPTers as the CPTers observed them and after making a phone call, they dispersed and left.




Bullet shells IHEC voting center manager collected on poster of
political parties and their candidates.

Following the CPTers’ arrival, the voting center manager, who worked for the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC)—the formal body responsible for the transparency, fairness and independence of the elections—led the team into an empty staff room and presented a handful of bullet shells.  He said: “We collected them in the school yard this morning after the Asaish tried to come in armed with guns and take over the school after we prevented some people from voting more than once.  The police protected the school.  The Asaish were upset and fired in the air.  Luckily they left.”

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Federation of Civil Society Organizations commemorates assassination of Sardasht Osman, decries election violence





May 5, 2014 marked the fourth anniversary of the murder of the young journalist Sardasht Osman.  To address the inaction of the authorities in bringing his murderers to justice and the prevalence of violence, both physical and psychological, in Kurdish society that re-emerged during the recent elections, the Federation of the Civil Society Organizations of Suleimani, of which CPT Iraqi Kurdistan is a member, published a written statement.  Below are excerpts that highlight the yearning of people living in the area of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) for a democratic, transparent, and just society:

 In 1991 the Kurdish people hoped that they had reached an end of the oppressive dictatorship and that the windows and gates to people's dreams for political liberty and freedom of thinking opened.  Unfortunately, the removal of a regime that practiced all possible kinds of abuses did not automatically establish democracy.  The madness of the violation of the political and personal rights continues.  The political parties pursue power, control, and their own benefits instead of the principles of democracy.  They do not accept each other, do not want to allow for the exchange of power between parties.  Parties threaten and fire people from jobs, kill journalists and ignore criminal cases, such as the case of Sardasht Osman and so many others in the past years and present.

Prayers for Peacemakers, May 7, 2014

Prayers for Peacemakers, May 7, 2014

Pray for all those who had their hopes for a free and fair election in Iraqi Kurdistan disappointed on April 30, 2014. 

The team in Iraqi Kurdistan wrote, "Our hopes for fair elections in Iraqi Kurdistan died today":
- as we witnessed the fear that the presence of armed and undercover PUK "security" forces at the gates and inside of the voting centers sowed among the voters and electoral staff;
- as we heard shooting and saw bullet shells gathered at the yard of a voting center;
- as we watched armed PUK men take away a staff member employed by the Independent High Electoral Commission allegedly because he filmed the illegal entry of armed "security" forces into his voting center;
- and as we read that TV station crews and journalists have been attacked, beaten and otherwise prevented from doing their work...

Give thanks for the courageous judge who issued warrants for the arrests of the Director-General of the Asaish (secret police), the head of the Anti-Terrorism unit and the head of the provincial Special Forces, because of the assaults on election observers.


Epixel for May 11, 2014



Gorran election observer in hospital after he was abducted and severely beaten

For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering
unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is
that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's
approval.
1 Peter 2:19-20

*epixel: a snapshot-epistle to the churches related to and appearing with a
text from the upcoming Sunday's RevisedCommon Lectionary readings.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: CPT calls for elections free of manipulation by the political parties

On 29 April 2014, in the presence of four media channels, the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team presented a statement regarding the upcoming elections in Iraqi Kurdistan.  The five-page document calls attention to several issues that CPT team members and delegates observed disrupting the electoral process in September 2013.  CPT Iraqi Kurdistan hopes it will encourage all the involved parties and bodies to work together towards more open and fair elections. CPT members have also shared the report with the Independent High Electoral Commission, the Iraqi national organization that bears the responsibility for organizing the electoral process and protecting its independence.  Because of concerns that the various political parties might use the CPT statement to their advantage, the team postponed the public appearance to the day following the end of the month-long pre-election campaign. CPT members along with several partners will observe the elections as a part of an international team. 

The document, “The electoral process in Iraqi Kurdistan through the eyes of the international observers: Recommendations based on the observations of the Christian Peacemaker Teams,” is available in English here and in Kurdish.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Speaking truth to power, for the sake of clean water

Last week, the team met with a man who has done his best to address the threats to the water supply here in Iraqi Kurdistan, but now feels that he has reached the end of his rope.  Mohammed—he wishes to stay anonymous because of threats—has degrees in geology and hydrology and has worked with water issues both here and abroad.  Two years ago Mohammed came back after spending several years in a European country, eager to use his knowledge for the benefit of his people.  In different ways, he has tried to educate people and authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan about the importance of clean drinking water and how to ensure pure water for future generations.  




Exxon Mobil oil rig near Sartka, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Its partner, Maersk Oil, implies on its website
  that the company may use
high-volume horizontal fracturing (fracking)
in its Iraqi Kurdistan wells.

Since one major threat to the water is oil drilling and oil refineries, Mohammed has studied these operations in Kurdistan and their effects on the environment.  He is asking the Kurdish authorities to take the responsibility of choosing competent people to decide whether or not to grant concessions to oil companies—something he feels is not happening currently.  One example he mentions is the building of a big oil refinery outside of Sulaimani.  At the location of the refinery, only seven meters below the earth's surface, there is a big underground lake of fresh water.  Such a place should have a protected status, instead of facing contamination by the refinery’s pollution.
 
Last year people with connections to the parties in power warned Mohammed to stop his activities “for his own sake,” but he has continued writing articles and presenting seminars about the threat to the water supply.  Early this year he participated in a television show about pollution from oil operations.  Since then he has received several threats over the phone, men calling from unknown numbers, saying he must stop what he's doing or something might happen to him or to his children.  He is convinced that his phone is tapped, and feels constantly watched.  One evening a couple of months ago two men on a motorbike came up from behind as Mohammed was approaching his house.  One of them hit Mohammed over the nose with a gun, before they quickly disappeared, leaving him bleeding.
 

Prayers for Peacemakers, April 3, 2014

Prayers for Peacemakers, April 3, 2014

Give thanks for the successful conclusion of the training in Iraqi Kurdistan.  It  was an important step in changing how training is done in CPT.  In addition to local participants from Iraqi Kurdistan, trainees, and trainers from Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Colombia, and Canada.

See IRAQI KURDISTAN: Participants in Iraqi Kurdistan training reflect on their five weeks

See video participants put together about their training experiences.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Participants in Iraqi Kurdistan training reflect on their five weeks

We knew that the first training in Iraqi Kurdistan would be special not only because of the setting but also because we were training local partners to become official members of the organization.  In addition, we had trainees and trainers from Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Colombia, and Canada, which created a multicultural atmosphere for the five weeks from 22 February to 29 March 2014 we were together.

The trainees helped to create a video portraying their experiences https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AH7sF4kx5u0
This training was an important step in changing how training is done in CPT. Training and including local peacemakers is a crucial part of our work - please, consider supporting this training and future local trainings by making a donation!

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Iraqi Kurdistan trainees undertake public witness on behalf of Plowshares activists

From 9-11 March, participants in Christian Peacemaker Team’s Iraqi Kurdistan training planned and participated in a demonstration on behalf of Megan Rice, Michael R. Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, three American peacemakers  imprisoned because of their nonviolent action at the Y-12 Oakridge Tennessee Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility.

On 28 July 2012 Rice, Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, unimpeded by security, crossed four fences and walked for two hours in the area before the guards found them.  They splashed human blood on the walls and spray painted peace messages.  While waiting for the facility security, they picnicked, and when the guards arrived, they offered to share bread with them.  For this action, which exposed to the world the threat of the nuclear weapons, the peacemakers received sentences of five (Walli and Boertje-Obed) and three (Rice) years in prison.

To mirror the Plowshares’ action, the trainees agreed, “Let’s make a picnic.  If it is possible to make a picnic at a nuclear facility, it should be also possible to do one on the sidewalk outside the US consulate in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan."  After preparations going far into the night, and four-hour early morning drive, the group of eight (trainees, trainers and a support person) arrived with a picnic carpet, apples, leaflets, photos of the prisoners, cookies tagged with internet links, and banners stating: “Being a peacemaker is NOT a crime” and “Thank them, don’t punish them.”

IRAQI KURDISTAN/COLOMBIA REFLECTION: Damn Tree

 

[Note: Parwen Aziz is a Kurdish woman living in Iraqi Kurdistan.  She is currently participating in the first CPT training in Iraqi Kurdistan.  She knows firsthand the effects of governments exploiting villagers in the quest  for oil revenue.  She wrote this reflection after a role-play depicting the consequences for Colombian farmers when large corporations take their traditional farmland to plant oil palms, which can produce alternative fuel sources for automobiles. ]

Damn Tree
The cycle of life has been reversed.  Trees defeat the earth.  I do not like to say your name, Oil Palm.  Scents of gunpowder and pictures of distressed mothers because of a damn tree.  When I first heard your name and learned how your fruit could be squeezed and the juice used as a replacement for petroleum oil, I rushed to interrupt my teacher.  “How can we bring this tree to Kurdistan?”  I wondered.  I wanted the response to be that we could import this miraculous tree to our country.  I wanted this to be a substitute for oil so that all warfare, extermination, and destruction over the black substance will not happen to humankind ever again.  But, alas, all my dreams and imaginations were destroyed when I perceived that this tree caused just as much destruction.  This damn tree causes thousands of Colombian families to become fugitives from their homes.  Thousands of families have become low-paid workers in their own fields.

I became depressed when I heard a story of a widow with her son.  They were working in the heat for three months, planting, tending, and harvesting their corn.  All their efforts were fruitless and wasted.  Someone set the pile of corn on fire and the products were burned.  They were left with nothing to feed the children.  I heard her say, “Take as many pictures as you can, take photos of everything here so that the whole world will know of what happened to us.”  War and oppression pivots around corrupt governments and capitalism.  The core point is that the capitalists get a lot of money and they become rich and richer, while the workers and needy people remain poor and disappointed.