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Reportback from Iraq's Intifada

After visiting Iraq for three weeks in April and May, Catholic Worker Brian Buckley returned home with the message from one Virginian soldier, “Help us.?
After visiting Iraq for three weeks in April and May, Catholic Worker Brian Buckley returned home with the message from one Virginian soldier, “Help us.?

Some of the coalition troops Buckley said he visited agree that service people and
Iraqi people were tragic pawns of a governmental corporate agenda that does not include democracy or liberation. Others still believe that they were there to help the Iraqi people even as coordinated attacks against them continue from resistance fighters and the death toll increases on both sides of the war.

“‘(The Iraqi people) suffered tremendously under Sadaam and we’re here to give them a break,’? Buckley quoted one Army medic as saying. “‘We’re not here to dominate them, we’re not here to occupy them. We don’t want to come in here and take care of the problem and then leave for them to have another problem,’? he continued.

Buckley recalled his visits with people serving in Iraq one evening at the Little Flower Catholic Worker farm in Louisa, Va. Enclosed in a circle of twenty friends, Buckley shared his experience in the Iraqi desert. He visited Najaf, stronghold of Shi’ite resistance, as part of a five person team to bear brief witness to the Iraqi struggle and to speak with service people.

Buckley said that when his group had exchanges with service people they didn’t try to convince of one position or another in a political debate. They wanted soldiers to understand that they supported them.

“We wanted to reassure them that when we are marching in the streets, we’re not against them; we’re marching because we want them to come home and stop this fight that is in vain,? he said.

At a time when the price for an American head is going for more than $12,000 in certain parts of Iraq, Buckley said he couldn’t have experienced a more welcoming and hospitable culture than that of the Iraqi people. Using caution, Buckley at first feared venturing out alone but eventually made his way around in public, at one point visiting the main market in Najaf.

Approaching the market bearing a sign that read “No American Occupation,? Buckely
said he was approached by a local sheik that asked to take his picture with him.

“My group was the demographic of the enemy,? he said. But the good treatment he received from the people he encountered “was a very warm and daring gesture on their part.?

“I was told time and again ‘the Iraqis have no hate for the American people but they hate the agenda that is being forced upon them.’?

Buckley’s team traveled to Najaf as thousands of troops surrounded the city anticipating an invasion. He quickly assembled with friends from California to form the Najaf Emergency Peace Team, "Peace Between Peoples;? raised money to travel and received help from U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor to renew his expired passport on short notice.

Growing enchanted with his surroundings upon his arrival to the Middle East, he described seeing an ancient world complete with labyrinths of streets, winding narrow alleys and surreal reminders of history.

Buckley learned from Iraqis that the Najaf uprising was sparked after occupational
authorities closed a newspaper printed by Moqtada al-Sadr, firebrand leader of the Shia resistance. The Muslim cleric published a headline comparing provisional boss Paul Bremer to former dictator Sadaam Hussein.

The Coalition Provisional Authority shut the publication down and in response hundreds of protesters marched from Kufa to Najaf. Twenty-two demonstrators were killed after throwing rocks at an army Humvee, Buckley said. Sadr was declared wanted by the U.S., who accused him of complicity in the murder of another cleric, but Sadr refused to surrender to what he called an illegitimate authority.

Thus began the popular resistance in Najaf. “(Sadr’s group) is very popular because
they are the only ones standing up to the U.S.,? Buckley said. Buckley’s team even met some of Sadr’s people at their hotel in Najaf, describing one spokesperson as “a jolly old cleric with a big beard and belly to match,? who said, “‘We don’t like the way things are going around here. We think we have the right to
rule our own country.’?

Buckley said many Iraqis lived unpoliticized lives during Hussein’s reign but as the
U.S. has been unable to provide public safety, electricity, food, shelter and healthcare, the temper of the people reached a boiling point.

“The people of Najaf no longer have access to their own hospital,? which is now occupied by coalition forces, Buckley said. His team visited the Najaf hospital after being warned by people in the city not to go near it. People had told
him that coalition forces targeted hospital workers and some had been killed.

Undeterred, the team decided to visit troops at the hospital. The team moved cautiously and deliberately while walking toward the hospital, wearing signs that read “Peace, Paz, Salaam,? and “Don’t be another Sadaam,? while carrying a white flag. Surrounded by an aggressive swarm of reporters, coalition troops shot upon them to disperse the crowd.

“It’s the language now, greeting with a gunshot,? Buckley said. Once reaching the soldiers, they found themselves in the company of El Salvadorians and one Cuban Army medic, yet to be an U.S. citizen.

“‘I’m here to serve my country,’? Buckley recalled the Cuban as saying. Most of his conversations with service people in Iraq involved people yearning for their homes,
missing the mundane aspects of life like mowing the lawn.

Buckley spent the rest of his time in Najaf performing media work and wrapping up his trip. Before returning to the U.S., he stopped in Jerusalem and also visited the wall Israel is constructing to steal land from West Bank Palestinians.

“Coming from Iraq, I couldn’t imagine a more dire place,? he said. "There were guns everywhere." Back stateside, Buckely is focusing on speaking with more people about his experiences and getting the message out. Buckley hopes Americans will do more to resist the occupation, because he said, “Silence is complicity.?


See the link below for RIMC's previous feature with several report-backs from Brian's trip.

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