the grim reality, many people from around the world are coming to
Iraq to support the peace and justice movement. Global Exchange,
Voices in the Wilderness, Amnesty International, Code Pink, and
many other peace activists from Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, and
France are here showing solidarity with the people of Iraq.
Since mid-April when the major assaults in Iraq
ended, thousands of foreign humanitarian workers and human rights
activists from around the world have come to Iraq to work with the
United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human
right groups. They've come with the intention of helping the people
of Iraq, all of this outside the scope of U.S. occupational forces
and its U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authorities (CPA) (the U.S.
occupiers' shadow government in Iraq set up after the invasion).
Unlike during Saddam's regime, when every
foreigner needed to fill out complicated paperwork to come to Iraq,
and their activities were limited and monitored by the government,
in post-war occupied Iraq, there's no immigration authority nor
government bureaucracy to register, monitor or coordinate the works
of all international agencies.
As a result no one really knows how many international
organizations are in Iraq. Baghdad is now the "wild, wild west"
of international and Iraqi organizations. It's easy to come to Baghdad
now and anyone can do it. A group can just get an apartment or hotel
room and set up their own office without going through any paperwork.
Everyday there're new groups popping up and in many cases, no one
really knows who they are. They range from faith-based organizations
to media activists; medical aids groups to human rights monitors.
Some groups are multi-million dollar operations with hundreds of
staff members, while others are just mom-and-pop joints with only
one person in Baghdad.
The human rights operations
in Iraq are just another example of the successes and failures of
international organizations in developing countries.
Benjamin from San Francisco's Global Exchange and United for
Peace and Justice, has brought several delegations
to Iraq since the end of the war to open a Occupation
Watch center, an international human rights office in Baghdad
to monitor human rights abuses by U.S. occupying forces in Iraq.
"It has been a amazing experience here, and [you] get opinions
from such a cross-section of Iraqis," she says.
Compared with newcomers like: Occupation Watch,
Voices in the Wilderness is considered to be one of the oldest foreign
human rights groups in Iraq. Ramzi
Kysia, from Washington DC, a third-generation Lebanese-American,
has spent one of the past two years in Iraq for Voices in the Wilderness.
He was here during the first two weeks of the war, and expelled
from Iraq by Saddam's government. After the fall of the regime,
he immediately came back to Baghdad. At the peak, they had 33 people
in Iraq during the war from across the world. As time passed, volunteers
left and new replacements arrived.
Voices in the Wilderness set up an independent media
center in downtown Baghdad. They're working with a group of university
& high school students, and people in their 40s, to start an
independent newspaper called Al-Muajaha (The Iraqi Witness,
http://www.almuajaha.com). Currently, they desperately need financial
donations to run the newspaper, and a full-time staff with journalism
background who can speak English and Arabic
to run the Baghdad Independent Media Center.
Voices in the Wilderness
has been coming to Iraq for the past eight years and has brought
about 500 people from across the world for the peace missions. "Iraqis
are the most generous, the most hospitable of all the Arabs. People
here are unbelievably kind to you. They take you their homes. They
welcome you as members of their families. They will give everything
that they own." Ramzi says, "I think the occupation has
made [everyone] increasingly violent and hostile."
Echo Ramzi's concern, Caoimhe
"Cuiva" Butterly, one of the Voice's peace volunteer
from Ireland, says "I think it is really necessary not only...witness
the truth and reality [in occupied Iraq] to the outside world."
She says the war had created such deep divide between middle east
and the west that "it's very necessary [for us] to be present
here to represent an alternative faces of the west [to the Iraqis]"
She concluded. Cuiva is a very brave women, she made a very challenging
statements against the Iraqi Interim Council during their opening
ceremony on July 13.
Ewa Jasiewicz, another
Voice's peace volunteer, is a naturalized British citizen originally
from Poland, she spent much of her past year in Palestine. She has
been in Iraq since May, and planning on staying until next year.
She's currently helping the homeless Iraqi-Palestinians at the Palestine
refugee camp in Baghdad.
After the war, over 1,000 Iraqi-Palestinians
were evicted from their Baghdad apartments and forced to stay in
the refugee camp because there is no Iraqi government to pay their
rent subsidy. Ewa, Cuiva and other international peace workers from
the Voice had setup a solidarity tent at the camp to help the refugees.
While the Palestinians in the camp generally welcome the international
activists, they also think they are ineffective in helping them.
Ewa admits there are problems in the international
aid groups in Iraq. While she supports more human rights groups
coming to Iraq, she says, "There's a lot of bullshit
coming up. Everyone's got their own NGO, and everyone wants to set
up their own NGO [in Iraq]."
Another problem Ewa admits must be confronted is
mistrust from Iraqis. She says at the beginning when she arrived,
people were very suspicious, on guard with her, and they were wondering
why they're coming. In some cases, Iraqis were very hostile toward
them, particularly men, she says "because of the representation
of western women in every American daytime TV show or film as flirty,
half-naked bodies; female peace activists from the west aren't viewed
as volunteers in solidarity [in Iraq]."
is the future of the international peace movement in Iraq? Ewa
says listening to them is very important. "You know, everyone
wants to know why you are here. Everybody wants to know why your
government [U.S. and U.K] is responsible for this [invasion], and
picks you as the representative of your governmental policy, or
projects upon you a kind of revenge or frustration or anger they
feel against the policy of your government, or tells you what your
government has done to them for many years, which you have listen
to, you know. You've got to absorb all their anger because it's
the first time lots of [Iraqi] people [have] had [this chance],"
Thousands said it,
with faith, with flattery, in opportunism -
And the people who didn't say it were humiliated.
Who can disbelieve in Saddam?
Today, we are still hearing
Without outlawing abomination,
Or commanding to the right path -
Without our trying to do anything
Dear God, when will we be liberated?
From our fears, our anguish - When? When
Will we find peace?
Excerpt from poem "Saddam Will Return"
by Saif Al-Haddad.