Violence, Feasts, and Gifts: A Reflection from Peacemaker Teams in Iraq

Two weeks ago, just after supper, we heard the sound of heavy shooting, much louder and longer than the common gun battles on the streets. Neighbors were out on the streets wondering what was happening, and soon concluded that it was US air strikes in another neighborhood some distance from here. We have not yet found out where they took place or the reasons given for the strikes.

The last weeks in Iraq have been more violent, with over 200 people killed and an American journalist we met last summer, kidnaped. Knowing that it has been common for there to be an upsurge of violence just before major events and holidays doesn’t make it any less horrible.

During the four-day Muslim celebration of the Eid al Adha, people were out in great numbers shopping for food and gifts for their families’ celebrations. I enjoyed being there in the festive atmosphere, greeting people we know. The increase of violence doesn’t stop people from going on with the celebratory or recreational activities that help hold back despair.

Most any day we can still see rousing soccer games going on in the park across the street from us. At least for those short periods, those men or boys can forget and release their worry and frustration as they throw themselves into their games.

Last month, when I first arrived in Baghdad, I felt nervous being out on the streets, not knowing what things would be like since the kidnapping. There are some who have been more hesitant to relate to us now because of potential danger, but for others this has not been true. I have been glad to receive welcoming greetings from people in our neighborhood who know who we are and what we do here. Many stop us and ask whether we have any news about our four colleagues. Many, Muslim and Christian, tell us they are praying for them.

They know what it is like to worry and wait, to have family members injured or killed. Some Iraqis have become bitter, mistrustful, and willing to take advantage of their fellow Iraqis during this chaotic time, but most continue to be gracious and generous in their care for each other.

One neighbor explained to me that when a member of an Iraqi family is kidnaped by a criminal gang, everyone in the neighborhood contributes to the family to help get them freed, implying that our neighbors would help us that way if we wanted them to. We are not about to ask them to do that, but are humbled by what he said. In their hardships and struggles, we can’t expect them to be able to take care of the internationals in their midst. What they have been able to give, however, and what we feel privileged to receive, has been the gifts of love and acceptance that he and others generously offer us.

Peggy Gish is a Church of the Brethren member working in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). This reflection was taken from a CPT press release. Four CPT members–Tom Fox, Norman Kember, James Loney, and Harmeet Singh Sooden–were kidnaped in Iraq in Nov. 2005. A video shown on Al Jazeera Jan. 28 showed the men alive, but included a renewed death threat if the US does not release its prisoners in Iraq (see past Newsline reports at and CPT has its roots in the Historic Peace Churches (Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker) and is an ecumenical violence-reduction program that places teams of trained peacemakers in areas of lethal conflict. It has been present in Iraq since Oct. 2002, providing humanitarian aid in the form of training and human rights documentation. For more see


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