March 7, 2002
IRAQ: Human Shields--a perspective from Baghdad
by Cliff Kindy
More than 120 Human Shields have gathered from thirty-four countries to be a
positive witness against the escalating war against Iraq. They have based
their effort on an idea by Ken O'Keefe a U.S. veteran who experienced the
horror of the first Gulf war in 1991.
Media and war advocates have denigrated the term "human shields" by
focusing on times governments have forced persons to go to vulnerable
sites, often military, as a barrier to an attack. Forgotten in this mindset
is the mother who shields her child from an attacker or a friend who offers
his life to save another. This present day experiment is an offspring of the
action of the mother and friend.
This experiment was complicated as the volunteers accepted the room and
board hospitality of the Iraqi government. The site selection
committee of the Human Shields had been visiting sites (water treatment,
electrical generation, food storage, oil refinery, and hospitals) to check
out living facilities, neighborhood connections, communication
capabilities, and compromising factors such as nearby military
encampments. Problems escalated as the government tried to push the
presence of Shields at certain sites.
The initial response of the Human Shields was to pull back even those
volunteers who had already been deployed. Some chose to leave; others wanted
maintain the commitment to the Iraqi people and to work out some
compromise to continue what was trusted to be a nonviolent barrier to US
attacks on facilities that sustain the civilian infrastructure in Iraq. The
dialogue continues in its stumbling fashion.
In mid-February two Iraq Peace Team (IPT) members one from CPT, joined a
Human Shield witness at the Ameriyah Shelter as a silent, prayerful protest
of the 1991 US
bombing of that civilian bomb shelter in a family neighborhood of Baghdad.
Four hundred and seven civilians seeking shelter were incinerated by a U.S.
Since last October, IPT/CPT has been visiting similar sites (along with
families, churches and universities) to remind the US government that they
promised not to target such sites. Banners reminded the military that to
target such sites is a war crime.
IPT/CPT continues visiting these sites and is preparing to be a presence
should the war escalate. IPT/CPT deaths would be a grim reminder that war
usually targets places where civilians are the ones that die.