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Eyewitness Iraq

Keith Parkins | 26.11.2004 16:01 | Analysis | Anti-militarism | Repression

Touring UK, courtesy of Voices UK, Christian peacemaker Peggy Gish recently returned from Iraq with eyewitness accounts of what was happening on the ground. Tales of occupation and solidarity.

I went to the talk at Friends Meeting House in London. On the platform was due to be Jo Wilding, Phil Pritchard and Peggy Gish.

Jo Wilding, who has been posting excellent reports from Iraq, was my main reason for being there, and so I was greatly disappointed when it was announced she could not make it due to illness and exhaustion. Instead a statement from her was read out. In it she told of how she had witnessed US Marines shooting at civilians, attacks on a clearly marked ambulance, and that cluster bombs were being used on civilians in built-up civilian areas.

Jo Wilding was in Iraq from November 2003 to May 2004, and was in Fallujah in April 2004 during the US attack on the city. Some of her dispatches are featured in the recently published collection of war reporting, Tell Me No Lies, edited by John Pilger (Jonathan Cape, 2004).

Phil Pritchard is one of the B-52 Two, the Fairford Five (activists charged with attempting to disarm B-52s and their support vehicles at Fairford on the eve of the invasion). He told of how he and someone else had intended to disable a B-52 bomber, but had got caught in the act, and not surprisingly has been charged with conspiracy to commit the act. His defence will be that attacks on Iraq constitute a war crime, thus his actions were fully justified. Phil is undoubtedly well-meaning, but his act is at best symbolical, and unless that symbolism gets across to the wider public, a completely futile gesture.

The case, if it ever gets to court (provisionally scheduled for Bristol Crown Court 17-21 January 2005), raises a number of interesting legal points.

Peggy Gish has recently returned from Iraq. She and her team, Christian Peacemaker Teams, are working and living with Iraqis, and wherever possible, acting as liaison between Iraqis and the occupying forces. As she said, bearing a US Passport carries certain privileges.

Peggy described a catalogue of atrocities being committed by the US Marines – people are beaten, tortured and sexually abused, houses destroyed, houses looted, collective punishment meted out.

Marines would kick in the door of a house, the occupants beaten before being taken away, gold, jewelery and money looted from the house.

In one village, suspected of hiding a senior associate of Saddam Hussein, houses were destroyed, the men rounded up and taken away. Later the Saddam associate was found to be hiding out elsewhere.

Told by the US Marines that an Iraqi village was a hot bed of terrorists, Peggy Gish found a village of ordinary Iraqis.

People are regularly disappeared. One of the tasks of the CPT mission was to try and track down missing Iraqis who had been taken away by the occupying forces.

Peggy Gish described how she had observed on more than one occasion, Marines stand by and watch as Iraqis loot factories. US corporations are then brought in to run the factories.

Unemployment in Iraq is running in excess of 60%. The US corporations who are looting Iraq do not employ Iraqis, they bring in outsiders.

Talking to ordinary soldiers to hear their side Peggy Gish found they broadly split into two camps, those who genuinely thought they were doing good and bringing democracy to Iraq, and those who were disgusted and ashamed at their presence and what they were doing.

Peggy Gish described what we have all long suspected, that the Iraqi interim government is nothing other than a puppet of the US. Committees would be formed of Americans, with a token Iraqi, or where the Iraqis were in the majority, there would be one American and it would be he or she who wielded all the power.

When there was an atrocity, the Iraqi police would appear on the scene, but the investigation would be very quickly taken over by Americans, which showed who was really in charge, and it was not the Iraqis.

Millions marched against war in Iraq. Did we waste our time, as war took place anyway? Peggy Gish said no, as our actions were greatly appreciated by the Iraqi people.

One of the people at the meeting was Penny, who in the spring had disrupted a conference to hand out the corporate spoils of Iraq, Iraq Procurement Conference (April 2004). The conference was a breach of both the Hague and Geneva Conventions. The case against Penny and her friend has since been dropped, but Penny is arguing for the case to be reinstated as she wants to highlight the War Crimes which are taking place. It is a pity Penny was not one of the main speakers. [see Schnews 473 5 November 2004]

An update on Penny: Appearing before the Magistrate's Court, the magistrate said it was the first time in twenty years he had heard anyone arguing for their case not to be dropped. The prosecution refused to offer any evidence, and so the case could not proceed.

Talking to Peggy Gish afterward, I asked her, in the light of the deteriorating security situation, do the Iraqis wish the occupiers to remain. She said no, they would rather see the occupiers leave and take the risk and work out their own solutions.

One of the projects CPT have been running in Iraq is non-violent resistance to the occupation.

A question was asked of response of the churches to Iraq and the support of Christian fundamentalists for Bush. This created quite a heated reaction as to the hypocrisy of churches to what was happening in Iraq, and yet they can make a fuss about sexuality, unless of course it is Catholic priests buggering little children, in which case the Church mounts a cover-up.

Interestingly, the same point had been made the previous evening at a meeting with Jonathan Porritt and Satish Kumar (editor of Resurgence).

Jonathan Porritt made the point, that it was time for a schism in the church and it should dissociate itself from Christian fundamentalism. A view echoed by Satish Kumar.

I would agree. Bush claims to be a Christian, but I do not know what he means by Christianity, as it is not the followers of Christ to whom he refers. If Bush is following anyone, it would appear to be as a follower of Satan.

These views were echoed by an Iraqi Christian at the meeting. Peggy Gish had spoken of the churches that were being attacked, and how they, as fellow Christians, had lent their support. The Iraqi Christian who had spoken, said he knew the churches and the people, as he had worshipped in those churches. He said until outsiders had stirred up hatred, there had been no conflicts between Christians and Muslims, and they could always count on the support of each other.

This hypocrisy is not confined to the US and the Bush administration. In Farnborough, churches show a vague concern for their darker-coloured brethren in far away places, but how many are speaking out against the war on Iraq, even closer to home, how many took to the streets to protest the Farnborough International Airshow (the world's biggest arms fair)? I stand to be corrected, but the sad answer was none!

Peggy Gish has written an account of her experience in Iraq, Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace by Peggy Faw Gish (Herald Press, 2004). From what I have read so far, a very moving account. I hope to have a review available in the not too distant future.

Peggy Gish was in Iraq as head of the Cristian Peacemaker Teams, which together with Voices in the Wilderness, formed the Iraq Peace Team.

The UK tour by Peggy Gish was organised by Voices UK, who were sanction busting to Iraq during the imposition of UN sanctions with desperately needed medical supplies.

CPT are currently running an Adopt a Detainee campaign. To participate, visit Voices UK or CPT websites.

Keith Parkins
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