February 6, 2008, Letter
Roller Coaster Ride
Early December CPT went to the KRG Residency office to renew visas. The office said they should first obtain the NGO status and then get the visas. CPT started to work seriously on its application for nongovernmental (NGO) status.
The month of December was basically lost because Eid and Christmas contributed consecutive days to vacation time. Offices were regularly closed and CPT couldn’t pursue the application.
Offices opened and CPT met the Minister of Interior (MOI). This was in the context of proposing a return accompaniment with Kurdish villagers displaced when Turkey, with US support, bombed their homes.
When CPT met again with MOI there was opportunity to entertain a shortcut proposed by the legal advisor. “Why don’t you just transfer your existing NGO status from Baghdad?”
Things moved quickly. The Suleimaniya Governorate signed its approval and papers went to the Asaish security office. There the coaster got stuck. CPT was told to wait and then pick them up on Wednesday. Then, Sunday. No, tomorrow. For sure on Tuesday. “What! You don’t have your papers yet?” “Okay, just go to this office tomorrow and you can pick them up.”
CPT did and they couldn’t. Then, “We can do nothing from here. The papers are with your friends. You will have to find those who can influence a change.” CPT asked who were the ones to influence. KRG officials could not say.
CPT worked the channels. A media friend said, after hearing the tale, “It is the United States. They are bothered because you raised issues about bombings on the borders.” CPT recognized this as a factor, but other issues, like the kidnapping of two CPTers here one year ago, might also impact.
Suddenly, Residency offered one-month visas. CPT had been nearly two months without valid visas because they had CPT wait until the NGO was complete. There were restrictions, though, with these visas. Essentially, nothing could be done except work on the NGO application. This would damage the credibility CPT had gained and lose the initiative that had been grasped on the border bombings.
CPTers appealed the constraints, got them removed, and then another office took back the visas of the previous day! CPT should go buy tickets, get passports stamped with an exit visa, and leave directly.
The roller coaster crashed! In searching, though, it became clear that KRG offices were not the only roadblock to the process. Officials and advisors clarified that some US office was blocking the road and also making Kurds force CPT out.
The ride is not over. CPTers are visiting the State Department in Washington, DC. Others are visiting US Senate offices to request they get this expulsion reversed. CPT has work in Kurdish Iraq and needs clear visas and NGO papers.
In Iraq CPTers are approaching the US embassy in Kirkuk, the Ministry of Planning and the Council of Ministers in Erbil. CPT meets with a local State Department representative tomorrow. Five days remain and the roller coaster has places to go.
Yesterday CPT met with US State department officials in country and with the head of the Asaish security in the KRG. Both were clear it wasn't a fault of their office!! I suspect one is covering for the other. Three and a half days to go and we are still pulling out the stops so the roller coaster can roll on.
Beyond any of our activities here in the KRG, it feels as though things are unraveling in dangerous ways. Maybe just being here for a longer time allows for the invisible to become visible. Please pray for the people of this land.
Peace to each of you,