Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Revisiting Rutba, Iraq: 'You are all our brothers and sisters.'

"Christians, Muslims, Jews, Iraqis, or are all our brothers and sisters, and we will take care of you," the Iraqi doctor who cared for my injured colleagues told us when he refused our offer to pay him.

It was March 29, 2003, the tenth day of the US invasion of Iraq. The driver and all four passengers--Cliff Kindy, Weldon Nisly, Shane Claiborne, and Bae Sang Hyun--had been injured after their car, the last in a three-car convoy, wrecked on our frightening journey from Baghdad to Amman. The four had been part of the Iraq Peace Team in Baghdad, two as part of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) including Church of the Brethren member Cliff Kindy.

Even though US fighter jets were bombing in the area that day, an Iraqi man risked his life by stopping and taking the men to the nearby town of Rutba, in the western desert of Iraq. US forces had bombed the hospital there three days earlier.

Almost seven years later, this Jan. 15, the loving care we had received drew four of us who had been on that earlier trip back to Rutba to thank the medical workers. A journalist, filmmaker, and Iraqi colleague arranged the trip and came with us.

In the three-day visit, we saw the rebuilt hospital in operation, met with city officials, visited a school, and listened to residents share their pain and anger about violence spawned by our country's invasion. Cliff told the story of the past, but also about the work of CPT in Iraq since the invasion.

Most moving to us were the times we spent thanking and sharing with three men: a medical assistant and an emergency room nurse who treated our injured, and an ambulance driver who carried Weldon from the car into the makeshift clinic.

The men insisted that their ability to see us as brothers and sisters and not as their enemies, even while our country was bombing them, was "not an exception. It is the usual nature of the Iraqi people. What we did, came from what we were taught and believe. It is what Islam is really about. At that time there was no social order. Thank God we could do the job!"

"I could hardly believe you came this long distance to thank us," another added. "This moment makes me very happy. It is my reward for all of my 30 years of medical service."

"We have not forgotten and we will never forget," Weldon responded.

"This story," added Shane, "has been transformative to many in the US who have heard it."

"We are also committed to share it," our Iraqi friends responded.

Once more we left Rutba, deeply grateful and humbled. Again we had experienced the power of God's love and human kindness to bring us together, defying barriers of nationality, religion, and the label, "enemy."

-- Peggy Gish is a Church of the Brethren member who has been working in Iraq on a regular basis with Christian Peacemaker Teams. CPT began asa Historic Peace Churchesinitiative. Recently, the CPT Iraq team released a 54-page report "Where There Is a Promise, There Is Tragedy: Cross-border Bombings and Shellings of Villages in the Kurdish Region of Iraq by the Nations of Turkey and Iran," detailing the destruction of northern Iraqi village life over the past two years. CPT notes that "regional and world powers, rebel groups, and Kurdish Regional Government have dismissed the villagers--mostly shepherds and farmers--their lives, their futures, their lands, their children, as irrelevant to the 'larger' agendas of the parties involved." Find the report at

Source: 3/10/2010 Newsline

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