February 22, 2008 Letter
Dear Friends, Family and All Good People,
I have been home for one week now and want to fill you in on all the events as I left Kurdistan. My three teammates are still in the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) area trying to complete our CPT application for NGO status (Non Governmental Organization).
I left on the expulsion visa we had been given by Asaish security that gave us one week to leave the country. That was just one day after they had granted us a 30-day visa to complete our NGO work. We scrambled and CPT in the US made connections with Senate offices and State Department offices. It was probably AFSC and Senator Lugar contacts with Jalal Talabani’s (Jalal is the President of Iraq and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party) son in DC that finally opened doors to get that expulsion visa extended for another 30 days. KRG offices are asking for a letter from US officials recognizing CPT and granting clearance for us to be in the KRG. It is not clear yet whether US officials will write that letter. It has seemed to me that the US and KRG are working together to assure that CPT will be unable to continue to work in the Kurdish north of Iraq.
You may have noticed in the news the last few days that Turkey has bombed the KRG area again and crossed into Iraqi territory with ground troops. They were confronted by Kurdish Peshmerga forces and it is not yet clear what the outcome will be. Journalists have been prevented by Asaish from covering the stories in the Kurdish villages. CPT was able to get an appointment with EmergenC for Susan, one of the civilians who lost her leg in the December Turkish bombings. EmergenC is a Kurdish organization that provides prostheses along with physical and occupational therapy for war victims. Watch the news to see if more Kurdish civilians become victims in this Turkish/US assault against the PKK resistance. A friend writes, “What does this mean? That the U.S. is engaged, not only in a civil war in Iraq, but also aiding the Turks in invading Iraq? I am confused.”
Remember the student group that was camped out in the local city park in Suleimaniya advocating for jobs, a role in building Kurdistan, and talking about nonviolent change? CPT had provided one training session of nonviolence in their tents. At a meeting with Asaish to try to reduce the restrictions on our visa, I had specifically asked about our work with this student group. The officer told me, “It would be better if you separated yourselves from that group.” As I walked downtown after that meeting I saw that all the tents and students were gone! We learned from students later that in the middle of the night Asiash had leveled the tents and arrested six of the students. That story is still in process as students consider bringing charges against Asaish for limiting the freedom of speech granted in the constitution.
In the last several weeks of my time in the KRG, friends came to me to talk about the Kurdish secret police. There is one unit in the Erbil KDP area - Dazgay Parastin (Protection Agency) and another in the Suleimaniya PUK area - Dazgay Zanyari (Information Agency). I was told they are among the most brutal in the world and basically invisible. Those who do come out of that system alive are threatened with death if the story is ever exposed. Those officers who are at the top of Asaish are also top officials in the secret police. This is a sobering revelation in the region of Iraq that is pointed to as a model democracy. At one of the offices I visited in my last days a staff person told me, “Here in the KRG we were very glad that the US helped us get rid of Saddam Hussein. The problem is that now we have seventeen little Saddam Husseins.”
Here at home I have been busy with some garden tasks even in the cold weather. I finished pruning the Concord grapes and the red raspberries. Arlene is making plans to start the early garden seeds inside even before the outside soil is thawed. As individuals and groups we nurture and ready the gardens for a future harvest. In local settings and around the world we also choose a different way of relating to the crises and enemies that we face. If justice and peace are to prevail, it is essential that common people, in little ways, take the steps that restrain empires and economic powers and redirect them and each other to the sustainable Way that God intends.
Remember that I am open to invitations to speak and act with you. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 260-982-2971. Blessings of peace to you!