Christian Peacemaker Teams remain in Iraq with new plan

By staff writers
May 29, 2006

Christian Peacemaker Teams remain in Iraq with new plan

-29/05/06

In the light of ongoing violence in Baghdad and with their profile dangerously heightened by a recent hostage crisis, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is exploring projects in other parts of Iraq for the next phase of its work there.

CPT co-director Carol Rose said last week that two Christian peacemakers are now in Iraq, but could not specify their whereabouts for security reasons.

The peace group, which has been in the country since 2002 (before the US-led invasion) confirms that it has left Baghdad, but is not leaving Iraq altogether ñ contrary to the impression created by recent reports in The Times newspaper and elsewhere.

In November 2005, four CPTers were kidnapped in Baghdad. One of them, American Tom Fox, was found shot in Baghdad on 9 March 2006. Meanwhile, Canadians Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden and Briton Norman Kember were freed by British troops ñ in the end without violence ñ on 23 March.

ìWe decided during the kidnapping to remain in Iraq until there was resolution,î declared Christian Peacemaker Teams last week. ìOur plan [then] was to have the team go out for a time to debrief and to consider the future of our presence and work in Iraq.î

CPT says its partners in Iraq were most concerned for the groupís safety. CPT was advised to leave Baghdad for several months and then consider whether to return to the embattled capital.

Ms Rose said CPT had hoped to send other activists to Iraq during this time, but difficulties in obtaining visas from Iraqi officials prevented this.

ìItís not unusual in our experience that when thereís been a transition in government . . . [some officials] become more cautiousî about granting visas, Rose explained. ìDuring those transitions, we hear a lot of ënext week, next week.íî

Christian Peacemaker Teams previously has discussed establishing a presence in more stable regions of Iraq, including in the predominantly Shiite south and in Kurdish-dominated territories in northern Iraq.

CPT also responded to a recent criticism of the group by Dr Kember, who said the decision to visit a mosque in western Baghdad, where the four CPTers were kidnapped, was ill-conceived and disregarded safety issues.

ìI think the CPT people who planned that visit didnít take the full risks into account,î said the retired medical professor in an interview on the UK Christian network Premier Radio ñ which has backed Ekklesiaís news ISP, Peacenik (www.peacenik.co.uk).

Rose said the decision to visit the mosque, where the peace group met with leaders of a Sunni religious organization, had actually been planned weeks in advance. It was part of ongoing exchanges between Sunnis and Shias.

As well as exposing prisoner abuse, working for human rights and promoting alternatives to war and occupation, CPT has worked to try to build bridges between the different factions ñ a task which has proved impossible for the military. It has helped to set up a Muslim Peacemaker Team.

ìThe team has always made a plan and then re-evaluated that as the time got nearer,î Rose said of the mosque visit.

In an earlier interview with the BBC, Dr Kember, clearly traumatised by his experience, also mentioned the mosque visit ñ saying that with hindsight, going to an out-of-the-way location may have been inadvisable.

But he also stressed his continuing support for the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Rose said that some details behind the release of Loney, Sooden and Kember remain unclear. A story in The Times newspaper asserted that British authorities allowed the kidnappers ó from a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade ó to leave the three CPTers unattended to avoid a potentially lethal gun battle with British Special Air Service (SAS) commandos.

The story also claimed that the group holding the CPTers had links to the captors of American journalist Jill Carroll, who was released 30 March 2006. The source of this seems to have been military intelligence.

ìItís really difficult to know,î Rose said, noting that media speculation about the captorsí identity and their motivation for seizing the activists has abounded.

There have been no further public reports about what happened to the captor who eventually led the military to the location where the three men were being held ñ or whether he surrendered or was captured.

It seems that the resourcefulness of the men in maintaining relations with their captors played and important part in their survival.

Critics of CPT have alleged that CPT brought the soldiers into danger by their presence in Iraq. But two military spokespersons have denied this in media interviews with Ekklesia, the UK Christian think-tank and news service.

CPT is supported by members of the historic peace churches, including Mennonites, and other advocates of non-violent peacemaking.

UK supporters of Christian Peacemaker Teams will be meeting later this week to pray, reflect and discuss how the work of CPT can be furthered.

With thanks to Robert Rhodes and Mennonite Weekly Review, from whom some of this report was sourced.

[Also on Ekklesia: Christian Peacemaker Teams gain peace prize 18/05/06; Colonel Collins' attack on Kember misplaced, say Christian peacemakers 09/05/06; Iraq peace hostage Loney talks of faith, fear and freedom 29/04/06; Christian peacemakers can make a difference, Vatican Radio told 21/04/06; Peace workers hold a key to Iraq solution, says think tank 17/04/06; Clarification sought from army chief on false Kember snub allegation 16/04/06; Critics of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq accused of being ill-informed 16/04/06; Army chief spoke without knowledge on alleged Kember ingratitude -28/03/06; What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview 15/04/06; Entombed Iraq captive Jim Loney talks of Easter Hope 15/04/06; Kember notes irony of non-violent release by soldiers 15/04/06; Kember still evaluating Christian peacemaker's role in Iraq 15/04/06; Christian peacemaker Norman Kember to give first major interview tomorrow 14/04/06; CPT in Iraq: What now? 04/04/06 - Peggy Gish reflects on the future of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams - detailed background; Contending the logic of violence - Ekklesia's Simon Barrow says that true Christian peacemaking cannot afford naivete]

Christian Peacemaker Teams remain in Iraq with new plan

-29/05/06

In the light of ongoing violence in Baghdad and with their profile dangerously heightened by a recent hostage crisis, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is exploring projects in other parts of Iraq for the next phase of its work there.

CPT co-director Carol Rose said last week that two Christian peacemakers are now in Iraq, but could not specify their whereabouts for security reasons.

The peace group, which has been in the country since 2002 (before the US-led invasion) confirms that it has left Baghdad, but is not leaving Iraq altogether ñ contrary to the impression created by recent reports in The Times newspaper and elsewhere.

In November 2005, four CPTers were kidnapped in Baghdad. One of them, American Tom Fox, was found shot in Baghdad on 9 March 2006. Meanwhile, Canadians Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden and Briton Norman Kember were freed by British troops ñ in the end without violence ñ on 23 March.

ìWe decided during the kidnapping to remain in Iraq until there was resolution,î declared Christian Peacemaker Teams last week. ìOur plan [then] was to have the team go out for a time to debrief and to consider the future of our presence and work in Iraq.î

CPT says its partners in Iraq were most concerned for the groupís safety. CPT was advised to leave Baghdad for several months and then consider whether to return to the embattled capital.

Ms Rose said CPT had hoped to send other activists to Iraq during this time, but difficulties in obtaining visas from Iraqi officials prevented this.

ìItís not unusual in our experience that when thereís been a transition in government . . . [some officials] become more cautiousî about granting visas, Rose explained. ìDuring those transitions, we hear a lot of ënext week, next week.íî

Christian Peacemaker Teams previously has discussed establishing a presence in more stable regions of Iraq, including in the predominantly Shiite south and in Kurdish-dominated territories in northern Iraq.

CPT also responded to a recent criticism of the group by Dr Kember, who said the decision to visit a mosque in western Baghdad, where the four CPTers were kidnapped, was ill-conceived and disregarded safety issues.

ìI think the CPT people who planned that visit didnít take the full risks into account,î said the retired medical professor in an interview on the UK Christian network Premier Radio ñ which has backed Ekklesiaís news ISP, Peacenik (www.peacenik.co.uk).

Rose said the decision to visit the mosque, where the peace group met with leaders of a Sunni religious organization, had actually been planned weeks in advance. It was part of ongoing exchanges between Sunnis and Shias.

As well as exposing prisoner abuse, working for human rights and promoting alternatives to war and occupation, CPT has worked to try to build bridges between the different factions ñ a task which has proved impossible for the military. It has helped to set up a Muslim Peacemaker Team.

ìThe team has always made a plan and then re-evaluated that as the time got nearer,î Rose said of the mosque visit.

In an earlier interview with the BBC, Dr Kember, clearly traumatised by his experience, also mentioned the mosque visit ñ saying that with hindsight, going to an out-of-the-way location may have been inadvisable.

But he also stressed his continuing support for the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Rose said that some details behind the release of Loney, Sooden and Kember remain unclear. A story in The Times newspaper asserted that British authorities allowed the kidnappers ó from a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade ó to leave the three CPTers unattended to avoid a potentially lethal gun battle with British Special Air Service (SAS) commandos.

The story also claimed that the group holding the CPTers had links to the captors of American journalist Jill Carroll, who was released 30 March 2006. The source of this seems to have been military intelligence.

ìItís really difficult to know,î Rose said, noting that media speculation about the captorsí identity and their motivation for seizing the activists has abounded.

There have been no further public reports about what happened to the captor who eventually led the military to the location where the three men were being held ñ or whether he surrendered or was captured.

It seems that the resourcefulness of the men in maintaining relations with their captors played and important part in their survival.

Critics of CPT have alleged that CPT brought the soldiers into danger by their presence in Iraq. But two military spokespersons have denied this in media interviews with Ekklesia, the UK Christian think-tank and news service.

CPT is supported by members of the historic peace churches, including Mennonites, and other advocates of non-violent peacemaking.

UK supporters of Christian Peacemaker Teams will be meeting later this week to pray, reflect and discuss how the work of CPT can be furthered.

With thanks to Robert Rhodes and Mennonite Weekly Review, from whom some of this report was sourced.

[Also on Ekklesia: Christian Peacemaker Teams gain peace prize 18/05/06; Colonel Collins' attack on Kember misplaced, say Christian peacemakers 09/05/06; Iraq peace hostage Loney talks of faith, fear and freedom 29/04/06; Christian peacemakers can make a difference, Vatican Radio told 21/04/06; Peace workers hold a key to Iraq solution, says think tank 17/04/06; Clarification sought from army chief on false Kember snub allegation 16/04/06; Critics of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq accused of being ill-informed 16/04/06; Army chief spoke without knowledge on alleged Kember ingratitude -28/03/06; What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview 15/04/06; Entombed Iraq captive Jim Loney talks of Easter Hope 15/04/06; Kember notes irony of non-violent release by soldiers 15/04/06; Kember still evaluating Christian peacemaker's role in Iraq 15/04/06; Christian peacemaker Norman Kember to give first major interview tomorrow 14/04/06; CPT in Iraq: What now? 04/04/06 - Peggy Gish reflects on the future of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams - detailed background; Contending the logic of violence - Ekklesia's Simon Barrow says that true Christian peacemaking cannot afford naivete]

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