Ex-Hostage Returning to Iraq amid Current Crisis

Press Release – Christian Peacemaker Team

Ex-Hostage Returning to Iraq amid Current Crisis

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – Harmeet Singh Sooden is travelling to Iraq in the coming weeks to work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) on a short-term assignment. He will join a CPT project that is supporting local bodies managing the humanitarian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, arising from the large influx of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons fleeing the current fighting.

In 2005, while participating in an international CPT delegation, Mr Sooden and three colleagues were kidnapped in Baghdad and held for almost four months. Mr Sooden says the rise of ISIS and the ensuing crisis remind him of his own ordeal: “Seeing the hostages in orange jumpsuits brings back memories of Tom.” Tom Fox, one of the three held with Mr Sooden, was executed on 9 March 2006. Mr Sooden and the remaining hostages, Canadian James Loney and Briton Norman Kember, were freed two weeks later. According to the US Government, indications are that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the direct forerunner of ISIS, was responsible for the CPT kidnapping.

Mr Sooden is concerned about the Government’s decision to deploy the NZDF to train the Iraqi armed forces in fighting ISIS as part of the US-led coalition. He says, “US policies over the past few decades have had a devastating impact on Iraqi society, particularly the 1991 Gulf War and US/UK-initiated UN sanctions that followed. ISIS itself has its immediate origins in the conditions created in large part by the US and its allies, beginning with the illegal 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.” Amnesty International has recently accused the Iraqi Government and government-backed militias of committing war crimes. According to the organisation Iraq Body Count (IBC), “[t]he rise of [ISIS] as a major force in the conflict, as well as the military responses by the Iraqi Government and the re-entry of US and Coalition air forces into the conflict, have all contributed to the elevated death tolls”.

Mr Sooden says, “Our country should place the welfare of the Iraqi people as a whole ahead of its own national interests, and not take part in a military campaign that is increasing the level of violence in the region. The Government has not provided an adequate justification for an NZDF presence in Iraq.”

Mr Sooden believes NZ should withdraw entirely from the US-led coalition. “A law-abiding state, in particular a UN Security Council member, would ask the UN Security Council to mandate the appropriate measures to address the threat ISIS poses to international peace and security,” says Mr Sooden, “while pursuing UN-mandated avenues such as blocking support for ISIS’s war-fighting capabilities, increasing humanitarian aid, and engaging in good faithdiplomacy to resolve the conflict.”

CPT is an international NGO composed of trained human rights workers who protect human rights and promote conflict resolution in conflict zones around the world. CPT has had a presence in Iraq since October 2002 at the behest of local NGOs – first in Baghdad and then, from 2006, in the Kurdish north. It is a small but important part of a large non-violent movement in Iraq. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who helped to expose the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal in 2004, has acknowledged the work of CPT: “[M]ost of the things that I ended up writing about in Abu Ghraib, most of the general concepts, they knew a great deal about earlier.” CPT’s work with detainees has also been commended by the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI).


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