IRAQ: Former CPT hostage Harmeet Singh Sooden returns to Iraq

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Harmeet Singh Sooden has joined the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) delegation traveling through Iraqi Kurdistan 7-23 November 2009.  This delegation marks the first time he has returned to Iraq since he was freed from captivity four years ago.  

While participating in a 2005 CPT delegation he, along with fellow delegate Norman Kember and CPTers Jim Loney and Tom Fox were kidnapped in Baghdad by the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.  Tom Fox was murdered on 9 March 2006.  British forces freed Sooden, Kember and Loney two weeks later on 23 March 2006.

As a member of the delegation, Mr. Sooden is meeting with representatives of NGOs, human rights groups, displaced persons, government officials, and others to focus public attention on the challenges facing people in Iraq, particularly those living in the Kurdish north.  The delegation is also participating in CPT’s ongoing project of documenting the human rights situation in Kurdistan.  “My role is simply to report the genuine views of the people in Iraq,” says Sooden, who hopes these reports will encourage the public to influence their governments’ policies.

The Kurds of northern Iraq faced discrimination, terror, and death under the regime of Saddam Hussein and further devastation by the U.S./U.K.-initiated UN sanctions in the 1990s.  After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, thousands of displaced persons from southern and central Iraq fled to the KRG-administered area in the north.  More recently, northern border villages have sustained attacks by Turkey-a U.S. ally-and Iran, which have displaced thousands more.  

“The Kurds are asking for help to stop foreign countries from interfering in their affairs,” he says, “and the people of occupied Iraq are telling us that the coalition forces must withdraw: their presence is increasing the level of violence.  That is quite apart from the fact that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq is the ‘supreme international crime’, encompassing all the evil that follows, in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal.”

In June 2008, Israeli authorities assaulted, detained and deported Mr. Sooden when he attempted to enter the Occupied Palestinian Territories to do human rights work with the International Solidarity Movement.

Mr. Sooden, who is traveling on his Canadian passport, says he has looked forward to working with CPT again.  CPT is a small but integral part of the non-violent movement in Iraq.  Its mission is to reduce violence and promote the resolution of conflict through non-violent means.  It has had a presence in Iraq since October 2002, first in Baghdad, then, since November 2006, in the Kurdish north.

In the unlikely event he is kidnapped, he asks that neither ransom nor armed intervention be used to secure his release.  The CPT project in Kurdistan is operating in a security environment that is better, at present, than that of its projects in Colombia and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Interested people may read Mr. Sooden’s observations during the delegation at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/niraq09.htm.  He is available for interviews as soon he returns from Iraq.

Contacts:

Peace Movement Aotearoa (New Zealand): +64-04-382-8129 or pma@apc.org.nz

CPT Canada Office: +1-416-423-5525 or canada@cpt.org

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