IRAQI KURDISTAN: ExxonMobil puts operations on hiatus because of ISIS, but Kurdish villagers cannot access land

On 8 and 12 September, the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team visited its partners in villages affected by the ExxonMobil operations.  The huge Exxon base10562648_738933592856548_673082790745076661_o camp near Hajji Awa, from which the company conducted the oil explorations in Gullan village and Shawre valley sits almost completely empty.  The government sent many of the guards to fight the ISIS on the front line.  ExxonMobil has stalled its operations in Iraqi Kurdistan because of the advance of ISIS forces and the war.  The multinational corporation seems not to feel protected enough by the U.S. air strikes, even though the U.S. claims they are occurring for the “protection of U.S. interests and personnel.” 

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Bridging interfaith animosity and the pain of war--International Day of Peace in Kurdistan, Iraq

Three of our team walked into the gathering of about a hundred Kurdish peace and justice activists at the Cultural Café, in Suleimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, to celebrate the International Day of Peace.  Immediately, Nyan Mohammad, a teacher at the Arbat School, waved for us to come to sit at her table.  There, four displaced Ezidis (often called Yazidis) we had met before stood up and warmly greeted us.  Nyan, who is Muslim, made a special trip to the tent camp for displaced persons this afternoon to pick up this group and bring them to this event, which focused on building peace among religious groups

Hosting this event was a Kurdish women’s organization, called the Ashti Group.  The speakers included persons from four religious groups among Iraqi Kurds— An Ezidi, a member of the Kaka’i, (a Kurdish minority religion), a Muslim, and a Christian.  They each urged us not to judge people from other religions, but to live together in tolerance and harmony.  Their message was not theoretical but spoke to a real need of a society racked with ethnic violence.

Far right: Kurdish team colleague Parween Aziz; next to her, Peggy Gish.  Second from left,
 Nyan Mohammad, plus four Ezidi friends

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: The new military intervention in Iraq—on not repeating what has not worked


 Yazidi refugees driven from their homes by ISIS

For many Americans, President Obama, with his latest plan to expand U.S. military intervention in Iraq, is finally “doing something.”  And people here in Iraqi Kurdistan are generally hopeful that this will stop the militant fighters calling themselves “the Islamic State,” or for the purposes of this article, ISIS.  I keenly feel the pain of the people here and do not want any more persons brutalized, yet I believe Obama’s plan will not diminish global terrorism; it will only expand and strengthen it.

It is helpful to remember that ISIS’s ability to capture areas of Iraq was possible because of the U.S. had destroyed its society and supported the Shia government that excluded Sunni populations, subjecting them to widespread loss of jobs, attacks, mass arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings.

While our team lived and worked in Baghdad, the U.S. and Iraqi forces bombed and destroyed whole neighborhoods and cities in the name of anti-terrorism, generating more anger toward America.  The U.S. failed to support the progressive, mostly nonviolent, uprisings, around the country, against government abuse and corruption.  Throughout the years of occupation, it was clear to us that U.S. military actions in Iraq were not really directed at protecting the Iraqi people, but for protecting American personnel and U.S. economic and military interests in Iraq and the Middle East.  Then, in early August of this year, U.S. military strikes were, once again, less for protecting religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq than protecting U.S. diplomats and the large oil companies developing oil fields in the Kurdish region.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Support ninety Yazidi families through Wadi and Alind


 Ali Qasm Aalw

That's how many members of Ali Qasm's Aalw's were kidnapped by ISIS when they fled Sinjar/Shangal in early August. Ali, a 39-year-old Yazidi man, has not heard from his mother, grandmother, or father.  His sister managed to keep her phone when she was kidnapped, but the last time he called her ISIS militants answered and yelled at him.

That's how many families live in four unfinished houses near Duhok, in Iraqi Kurdistan, 467 people in total.  Ali's family lives in one of these houses with eighteen other families, which has no doors or windows and will need huge improvements to house the families for the winter.  These families are out of reach of aid from the Iraqi government and other international aid agencies, and many are missing family members. 

Three human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the German-Kurdish organization Wadi, the international organization Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), and the Duhok-based Alind Organization, are building relationships with these families to provide various kinds of support throughout the coming months.  

That's how many Iraqis have been displaced by ISIS in the last eight months, which has overwhelmed local and international aid agencies. CPT is not a humanitarian aid organization, but will accompany Wadi and Alind in their work, build relationships with these families, and share their stories and needs throughout the process.  With your help, Wadi and Alind will acquire adequate shelter, food, clothing, education, and psychological support for these Yazidi families. 

By working with these ninety families, Wadi and Alind can make sure that your donations are always being put to use in the most effective way possible.  Wadi and Alind are based in Kurdistan, so your donations will reach these families very quickly.  Already with the first donations, Wadi purchased mattresses and delivered them to the families.  

Donate now and share widely on your social networks.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Life goes on under a shadow


 Neighbors line up at bakery to buy bread

In the hot afternoon sun, two children dart into the small grocery store near our house and come out smiling with popsicles.  A woman responds to my greeting of “choni bashi?” as she fills up a bag of plums.  As the sun starts to drop closer to the horizon, clusters of boys are out on our street playing football (soccer).  Even though Kurdish and international forces are fighting the Islamic State (IS) two and a half hours away, life, in Iraqi Kurdistan, goes on.

A shadow, however, looms over the people in the Kurdish region of Iraq.  They feel it when they hear that the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have taken back towns on the edge of Mosul from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, also called ISIS and DAASH) fighters.  But they also remember early August, when the Peshmerga had been protecting the city of Shangal (Sinjar) and the surrounding areas, but then withdrew from the area—claiming they had run out of ammunition.  The withdrawal allowed IS soldiers to come in and terrorize the Yazidi people.

Even though IS had been collaborating over the past years with some Sunni populations in Iraq, in their opposition to the oppressive actions of the al-Maliki government, it was the IS takeover of Mosul in June that made the world take notice.  Yet, it seemed that IS was moving toward Baghdad afterwards and not the northern Kurdish region, so the Kurds drew a deep breath.  Then, on 3 August, the front got a little closer when IS captured the Mosul Dam and the city of Sinjar.  Peshmerga forces responded with attempts to retake some captured towns on the edge of the Kurdish region.  But it came as a surprise, when, on 6 August, IS seized four strategic towns on a key highway and advanced to positions just minutes from Erbil, the capitol of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: 9/11 in Arbat refugee camp

This morning, outside a playground full of brightly colored swings and slides in a camp for internally-displaced people in Arbat, Iraqi Kurdistan, I saw a tree.  Actually, four trees.  Four tiny trees, not much taller than me, planted by local NGO workers who were concerned about the children not having any shade in the summer heat, which can top 44C.  I don’t know much about plants in Kurdistan, but I can guess that trees growing in rocky, parched clay in a high semi-desert do no grow very fast—it will be years before the trees can provide good shade. 

These children—Yazidi and Arab Muslim—have only been playing here for a month.  Their families live in different parts of the camp, sectioned off by ethnicity and religion.  The camp itself used to house Syrian refugees until a new camp was built for them.  Iraq is near the top of the list for most IDPs and refugees, with over a million people fleeing violence in Syria, Iran, Turkey, Palestine and over two million more fleeing ISIS or remaining displaced after the U.S. occupation—all fruits of the tree planted by the U.S. War on Terror. 

Today is September 11, a fact I did not remember until my teammate mentioned it this morning.  I doubt any of these children know the significance of this day to people (like myself) from the U.S.  But they know the terror of September 11, 2001, a terror re-enacted by a traumatized United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Yemen, in Pakistan, 

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: Playing football with Yazidi kids

[Note: The following has been adapted for CPTnet.  The original, with additional photos, is available on Bergen’s blog.] 

 Bergen and friends he met at the Arbat school.

Since I’ve been in Suleimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, we have accompanied workers delivering aid to some of the nearly a million internally-displaced people fleeing the violence of ISIS (or the Islamic State, or Daash, whatever the largest and most highly-funded jihadist organization in the world wants to call itself).

Last week, we visited the small town of Arbat, where the Unite Nations has built two refugee camps, one for Syrian refugees and one for internally-displaced people, mostly Yazidis. However, when we visited, most of the Yazidis and other minorities fleeing ISIS’s ethnic cleansing were living in a crowded school while the camp was cleaned.

When we entered the school, dozens of people crowded around us. They needed medical care, they needed help finding relatives kidnapped by ISIS, they needed new IDs (some had torn up their IDs in the fear that if ISIS soldiers caught them and found out they were Yazidi, they would kill them). Long-time CPTer Peggy Gish and our translator talked with many people, trying not to promise to do things we couldn’t do.

I didn’t feel very useful listening, but I didn’t get much of a chance because several younger guys took me by the arm and asked me, in their limited English, to take their picture.We chatted, and additional young people lined up to have their picture taken. One asked for my email so he could ask for pictures to be sent.  As older people continued to crowd around the others, I played football  (the universal language) with a bunch of the younger guys.

IRAQI KURDISTAN/ABORIGINAL JUSTICE: “Now is the time we say ‘No More Stolen Sisters’”



"Stop ISIS Brutalizing Against Yazidi Girls"

Today as I sit in Quito, Ecuador, a participant in the Christian Peacemaker Teams biennial gathering, messages are coming from both of my communities on two sides of the world. The calls have similar themes: sisters are being stolen; governments must investigate their disappearances and their murders; violence against women must stop.

From Suleimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, where my Christian Peacemaker team has been working with partners who have sought to help thousands of displaced minority groups, came a call from the Kurdish women’s group, Jian (Life).  They proclaimed Sunday, 24 August a day for a civil demonstration on behalf of the Yazidi women whom members of the militant group known as IS (Islamic State) have captured and enslaved in the city of Mosul.  Clandestine phone calls from a few of these women described desperate conditions and horrific abusive treatment.  They told of women and girls forced to become wives of fighters and others sold into slavery.

Sixty activists from several women’s organisations and other civil society groups gathered in front of the United Nations office in the capital city of Hawler/Erbil. They demanded that the U.N. do more to help the Yazidi women and girls enslaved by the militant group. At the end of the march, several activists were able to take their message into the U.N. building to ask the representatives and the Kurdish Regional Government to act on this emergency and to take urgent measures to help the vulnerable women.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Kurdish activists call on U.N. and KRG to take action for kidnapped Yazidi women.

On Sunday, 24 August 2014, over sixty activists from a Kurdish woman’s organization marched to the U.N. Consulate in Erbil (Hawler in Kurdish) to demand that the U.N. do more to help Yazidi women and girls kidnapped by the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS). They carried banners reading, “U.N., Take Action, Our Women and Girls are Enslaved,” and “Committing Genocide Against the Minorities is a Stark Violation of International Humanitarian Law.” Protesters, who chanted slogans as they walked, then read a statement in front of the consulate before several organizers went inside to speak with representatives from the U.N. Two members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, Peggy Gish and John Bergen, accompanied the protest.

One protester, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “I'm Kurdish. It's my duty to come out here and support my country and encourage other teenagers to demonstrate and support Yazidi girls and their human rights.”

Those organizing the campaign want to pressure the U.N. and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to treat the kidnappings of Yazidi women as more of an emergency, and take more urgent measures to help them.  The IS forces (also called ISIS, ISIL and DAASH) have forced some of these women to become wives of fighters and sold others into slavery. Militants also threaten Yazidi women with death, and have killed Yazidi men who refused to convert to the group’s version of Islam.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Gish’s *Walking Through Fire* describes history of CPT’s work in Kurdistan

As the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State terrorizes, kills and forces minority ethnic groups out of their villages in northern Iraq, countries of the world have begun deploying a new round of military strikes and supplying weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi government forces. In the midst of this violence, Peggy Gish has been working with the Christian Peacemaker Teams on the ground in the Kurdish region of Iraq. With local individuals and groups, the Iraqi Kurdistan team has been able to listen to, share the stories of, and advocate for the needs of the people whose lives have been under threat.

In her book, Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (Cascade Books, 2013) Gish calls on us not only to open our hearts to victims the violence, but also to understand these events in light of the past decades of war, occupation, and internal strife.  

 We are invited to step into the streets of war-torn Iraq with her and meet those who live every day with the consequences of military “solutions.” Through Iraqis’ eyes—through their stories—Walking Through Fire “tells the truth” about what war and the U.S. government’s antiterrorism policies have really meant. Iraqis recount the abuses they experienced in detention systems, the excessive violence of the U.S.-led occupying forces as well as tensions between Kurds and Arab Iraqis—tensions rooted in Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds.