#8: Spiritual Christmas Action
Received Dec. 27.
Dear Friends, Family, and All Good People,
It is a rainy Christmas Day in Baghdad. Rain is a special gift in this arid land, so I will rejoice with the Iraqis for this Christmas present from God. Our team arrived back in Baghdad from Kerbala just before noon today. We had been there since Tuesday.
There have been some very heavy weeks since I last wrote. Two explosions in Kerbala and another in Najaf killed over 60 people. An attack at a US military base in Mosul killed over twenty soldiers. Attacks in Baghdad continued the assault against election workers and those working with the US occupation.
This week, near Kerbala, at a refugee camp we talked with a young man who had been back to visit Fallujah in the last four days. His report was that the resistance still held the city. A woman said the bombs fell like rain. I was skeptical.
Then I saw the NCCI (NGO coordinating committee for Iraq) report yesterday. "2000 people will be returning to Falluja on Dec 22." Then in the next paragraph: "A high ranking ING (Iraq Nat'l Guard), Ismail Fayyad, told the Mafkarat al-Islam correspondent: 'We made a big mistake when we told them [Falluja refugees] that they could return to Falluja. I think now that the battle has begun all over again in Falluja or that history has taken us back to the first day of the battle once again. They [the resistance] are like water, as soon as you grab hold of them, they slip from your hands'"
Is this accurate? We hear reports of heavy bombing raids over Falluja in the press and hear the bombers in the skies over Baghdad. Early reports in November said only mopping up operations were left, but still, in late December, there are reports of house-to-house raids and searches, and reports of soldiers killed, and ING not being able to carry security roles. This is well over a month after the assault started with massive technical and personnel superiority and it drags on. Something is wrong with the picture.
With the capture of Saddam Hussein, the turnover of power, the assault on Fallujah, and now, the upcoming election, the US administration promised that the situation would change. Yes, it was so. At each point the situation for Iraqis and the US occupation has changed - the situation has deteriorated.
This week made it clearer. For these last five days in Kerbala, there were no fighter jets and helicopters in the air, the daily mortars and suicide explosions ended, gunshots did not echo through the air, and I only saw two US convoys on Kerbala streets. It doesn't have to be madness and violence.
The question that I face daily is: How do the people of Iraq take the initiative away from the two sides that keep increasing the violence? How can the violence of both the US occupation and the forces of resistance be de-railed?
CPT went to Kerbala to explore ways to nurture a Muslim Peacemaker Team. A human rights office there has worked with us regularly, and we with them - praying at the mass graves, vigiling against the US detention and mistreatment of thousands of innocent Iraqis, and joining the human rights folks in the mass nonviolent march, called by Ayatollah Sistani, that stopped the violence of the US military and Sader's militia against the city of Najaf.
This visit we talked about CPT at a university. Students are intrigued and wanted to learn more. A local community action club heard about our university visit and came to explore options. We also visited the Fallujan (Sunni population) refugee camp an hour from Kerbala. A poor Shi'a village, Ein Tamer, offered hospitality to the refugees. Our human rights contacts were among the ones who bridged the religious walls.
How can a Muslim Peacemaker Team expand the nonviolence work that is already happening? Which parties will be active in peacemaking efforts? How will it become more intentional and organized? Is training necessary? If so, what will it look like? What actions will build confidence for MPT? How can CPT learn from this process? Can CPT experience in conflict zones help MPT? Can we work together across religious boundaries in such a way that our interchange can be a model for other places in our world? How does our spiritual undergirding carry us in this path?
Toward this spiritual Christmas action,