Cliff Kindy Iraq Blog

Current entries are related to Cliff Kindy's fourth Iraq trip, beginning in October 2007. The blog archives contains letters from Cliff's third Iraq trip in 2004-5.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Broader Kurdish Human Rights Implications

26 November, 2007

Dear Family, Friends and All Good People,

It is 5:15PM and only the ridges on the ring of hills around Suleimaniya are still distinct in the twilight. We have been here now for just over one month. We finished our eighth Kurdish language lesson this afternoon and have completed learning all the letters of the alphabet and are starting to read in Kurdish. As you might expect, our vocabulary is minimal, so we are not reading novels yet!

I wrote already about the human rights training for security officials and it appears we will be continuing those monthly courses. But human rights have application for others than security officials. We are uncovering: the constraints on freedom of speech for independent media, the violations of women, the tight limits on those who fled the violence in southern Iraq, and the stark contrast between those who are wealthy and those who aren’t.

The Kurdish Parliament is ready to consider a bill that could label any critique or questioning of government as an act of terror. Independent journalists are feeling the noose tighten around them just as media in Pakistan have been throttled by martial law in recent weeks.

The numbers of women’s groups may be an indicator of the problems underlying Kurdish society. There is an alliance of 25 women’s rights groups here in Suleimaniya Governate that we heard about in the last week. The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross and one of the translators we met both encouraged us to focus CPT efforts on the treatment of women in this society. We do hear, though you may not, about the killings or women in Basrah as religious militias assume the responsibility to decide what women should wear, whether they should attend school, and what roles they should choose in Iraq, post-U.S. invasion. NBC said Iraq had been one of the most open Muslim countries for women and now it is approaching Taliban constraints in the south.

From Kurdish people we have heard that internally displaced persons (IDP’S) from the south are welcome here, but they will not be allowed to stay. The camps for displaced are
not even putting in water systems or housing other than tents so there will be no misunderstanding. That means that when water trucks hauling water to the barren IDP sites find impassable roads in the winter or the tents cannot keep out the cold, or jobs are not available, the IPD’s are the ones who suffer.

Interestingly, a friend told me that the Agriculture Ministry decided to encourage rural farmers by providing Nissan pickups at a heavily subsidized price. This was to assist farmers in getting produce to markets in the cities. There is lots of produce in the city markets here in Suly, but most of it is from Iran, Turkey and places like Ecuador! There are also lots of used Nissan pickups flooding the buyers market. My friend said, “We need to implement good management practices in Kurdistan. Farmers need other supports if this type of assistance is to achieve its goal.”

While hiking with us in the hills last Friday, Kurdish friends pointed out the fancy home of Jalal Talibani, the President of Iraq and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK is one of the two main Kurdish parties, the other being the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by the Barzani clan. One of the Barzanis is among the richest people in the world. A local contact says that the monies that come into Kurdish government coffers from the oil wealth of the Iraq government slides easily into party pockets.

So this is a glimpse of some of the difficulties facing Kurdish society. Kurdish people will have to grapple with most of these. Perhaps there are points where it would be appropriate for CPT to offer support and encouragement. That is part of our task here. We are still in the midst of discerning whether and how we have a role.

Blessings of peace to you!


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Human Rights Security Training

By Cliff Kindy, November 19, 2007

Venus Shamal is the deputy director of Kurdish Human Rights Watch in Suleimaniya. CPT visited her office when they returned to the Kurdish north. Venus invited CPT to assist in the human rights training of 24 security officers from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

CPT hesitated because the training CPT receives does not emphasize an in-depth understanding of the block of human rights principles that has developed globally, especially over the past 60 years. But CPT agreed to this short one hour training module, plus translation, with a focus on CPT’s own experiences.

Venus had mentioned in meeting with CPT that the director of the security office in Suleimaniya, a former teacher, had placed a strong emphasis on human rights after a scathing critique of Kurdish practices from Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department. Three days before the human rights training CPT’s translator invited CPT to visit the office of her uncle, who works in the security office and coincidentally was the head of security in Suleimaniya!

Hours before the training was to start the translator CPT had arranged for the training module called to say that her relative was ill and she must be excused from translating that day. She would contact a friend who was an English teacher in the local secondary school. He came to the CPT apartment and spent an hour going over the first three pages (of a total of ten) that CPT had prepared before they had to leave for the training. Clearly the concepts and vocabulary were new to him.

When CPT arrived at the classroom, the training coordinator explained that CPT would have just one hour with the translation included. Other days a judge, a prosecutor and an NGO human rights worker has provided input for the training. CPT presenters cut sections of their talks which only made it more confusing for the translator, but the session turned out to be adequate. Venus praised Peggy for the stories she had selected from the “Report of 72 Detainees” that CPT had finished in the fall of 2004 in Baghdad.

Afterwards CPTers had a chance to visit with some of the officers. The officers were from various parts of the KRG area. One well-educated officer said, “Security is a very serious concern for Kurdistan.” A day earlier CPT had seen news reporting the detentions of 200 security suspects in four northern governates of Iraq. This was on the heels of a major news headline that 500 detainees had been released from U.S. prisons in Iraq. In the year prior to that release, during the “surge,” 10,000 new detainees had been added to the U.S. detention centers in Iraq.

The four-day training culminated with a graduation exercise during which the head of the security office came to hand out the certificates and shake hands. Interestingly, this same security office is the one that is in the process of evaluating CPT’s request for extended visas, a requirement for this project to continue. At the same time Venus has asked CPT to assist with future human rights trainings of security officers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Can We Add Humanity to Numbers?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Greetings Family, Friends and All Good People,

On the way to the internet this morning I again passed the man who sits at the foot of the stairs leading up. He is the eyes on the world, watching a slice of humanity pass his outpost. Earlier we have just greeted each other; today we talked a bit.

So what would one see watching the world? The news from the Australian Herald Sun (review of an earlier CBS report) says that 1.6 million US military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. News reports over the past few weeks have been noting that deaths of Iraqis and US military are down in Iraq. The reports only speculate on the reasons, but are clear that the "Surge" is not the cause. One analyst points to the stepping back by the US from bombing Iran and the willingness to add negotiation to military posturing as the reason for the decrease in violence. He suggests that Iran has responded to that initiative by withdrawing support from Shia militias in Iraq. So is the violence decreasing?

The Sun article goes on. Suicides in the 20's age bracket for US returned vets are four times the national average. In 2005 the statistics (how sterile) reported that 120 of these vets each week were committing suicide. That was about the number of Iraqis being killed each day at the height of the killing. Add these numbers to the nearly 4000 US dead here in Iraq and where do you go, what do you do?

When I was in Palestine/Israel many years ago, Israeli suicides in their military were about one per week in a much smaller military. The reports said that IDF forces couldn't live with what they had done in the occupied territories. We have all heard the reports of house raids on Iraqi homes by US military, the tortures at Abu Ghraib Prison, the CIA renditions of detainees to countries where they can be tortured, but we rarely understand the tortured minds that return from the war zones and the impact they have on US society.

This week in Suleimaniya had some positive events. A week ago we met with the head of security, a former teacher. He had taken the initiative a year ago to promote human rights education in the security ministry. CPT was asked by the director of Kurdistan Human Rights Watch, a local NGO, to assist with a four-day training for 24 officers involved in interrogation and investigation of suspects (our piece was just a one-hour block). We found this effort on the part of Kurdish security forces encouraging.

As a ripped off capstone to this week, we heard yesterday a rumor that still in Kurdish Iraq terrorist suspects can be taken away, shot and buried in unmarked graves. It begins to sound to me like the impunity under Saddam Hussein's regime or the impunity of US forces here in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

Where do we go with this, remembering the eyes on the world? I'm convinced it comes back to our personal willingness to extract ourselves from the structures that allow this to continue unimpeded and then to live as clearly as we can the human-respecting relationships that are a total contrast to such inhumanity. We will have to support each other in that process, because, within the US empire, so much of the weight is in the other direction. The future is in your hands

Blessings of peace to each of you!


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Reflection on Sunday Worship

Reflection on Sunday Worship
7 November, 2007
By Cliff Kindy

Sunday evening we worshiped at the Chaldean Church in Suleimaniya, Iraq, with about 150 other believers. The formal chants and longer homily seemed, in my state, stilted and unconnected with reality. The service was in Kurdish and Arabic so my attention kept focusing on other thoughts and images. There were two tiny babies, one very quiet and the other making quite a fuss. Many single men were to my right in the rear of the congregation. A young boy caught my eye – he had longer black hair and he kept looking back at me.

Suleimaniya is a city of about 800,000 people with a small Christian population of one hundred families. Khalid, the director of the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, told us earlier in the week that the first Christians came to this city in 1826. Recently nearly 160 new Christian families have moved to the city. They are fleeing the violence that is overwhelming the center and south of Iraq.

The worship ends. We gather out on the darkened plaza. I move to greet the parent of the black haired boy. Rizza is Iranian. His English is better than my Farsi, but we don’t talk much before he departs, perhaps a bit uneasy in this group of new strangers.

Ahmed approaches me. He is working in Suleimaniya now, but had to flee Baghdad because of threats on his life as a result of his translation work with the US military. His family is still in Baghdad and he returns occasionally to be with them. His father is an English teacher here in Suleimaniya, but is now back in Baghdad while his wife has surgery. His father was a translator with DynCorp, a private contractor. Ahmed asks me about working with CPT, His father and other friends also need jobs.

Schools in Suleimaniya operate with three shifts, both the Kurdish schools and the Arabic schools. The latter are especially for the new arrivals who don’t speak Kurdish well. Newcomers are finding houses and hotels in which to stay and new construction is occurring all across the city. But skilled jobs are difficult to find and a friend of CPT says the recent arrivals are welcome but must leave when the situation improves.

I reflect. It is unusual that so many men have come to worship alone. What stories might their lives tell? The Christian population has more than doubled and Christians have traditionally been the ones with connections to the US and Europe. What does this mean for the infrastructure of the city that has to carry this population explosion? What political events bring this father and son from Iran? How will the threatened bombing of Iran by the US impact other families? Babies. We are approaching the season for a baby. What are the times in which we live? Maybe I missed an emotionally charged worship. It is time to connect with God breaking in.