Excerpt | Citizens Peace Movement of Iraq, an interview with Kai Brand-Jacobsen

Excerpt from the Fall | Winter 2015 edition of Kosmos Journal

“KOSMOS: Thank you. Let’s turn to a very specific area on the planet where you have actually been working as a peacebuilder most recently: Iraq. Given the complex history and the present dire situation in Iraq and in the surrounding region, you have stated that people are basically realizing that if they want peace, they have to do it themselves. And that has given rise to the Citizens Peace Movement of Iraq.

KBJ: Moments before our call, I was looking at a picture from an event that took place in Iraq today. It was of a young man in his early 20s in a room very close to one of the IDP camps, the camps for people who have been displaced from their homes away from the fighting. These camps hold on average thousands to many tens of thousands of people living in tents—people who were doctors, engineers, pharmacists, journalists, people of every background one can imagine, who had been living in their villages, towns, and communities until one day they were told “An armed movement is coming. They will kill. You have to flee.” And now they’re living in tents.

This young man is from the Yazidi community, which many people around the world will have heard of after the violence and the advances by ISIS last summer. The Yazidis were trapped on a mountain in Northern Iraq, facing starvation. There were airlifts of food brought into them. Many Yazidi women were kidnapped by the ISIS militia, and one whom I met had been raped by more than 30 men before she lost count. The Yazidi have experienced some of the most extreme brutality of the violence and the fighting in Iraq. And this young man, whose sister was captured and raped by ISIS fighters, volunteered to assist a Yazidi organization documenting what had been done, documenting crimes against humanity—mass rape and sexual violence and killing. Part of that work involved going to villages and towns that had been affected and taking pictures of bodies—of young babies and children, of elderly people, people of all ages and backgrounds, people who had been massacred, often having been raped and experiencing sexual violence before being killed. Then their bodies were left in the heat in the Iraqi summer, where it goes up to 30, 40, and sometimes 50 degrees. This young man was taking pictures of corpse after corpse, often of people he knew.

On the first day of one of our recent workshops in Northern Iraq in the Kurdistan area, this young man was in the room. He told me later that that very morning three of his friends had driven to the front to join a militia to fight against ISIS and he was supposed to have gone with them. He was filled with a sense of anger, a sense of fury, a sense of hatred for what they had done and what had been done to his people. But one of his friends spoke to him and managed to convince him to come to a peacebuilding workshop. He came into the room and was vibrating with tension and anger. By the third day of the program, he was hugging a Sunni Arab from Mosul, a member of a community that is often perceived as supporting ISIS. This young Sunni Arab from Mosul was a man driven from his home because he would have been killed by ISIS had he stayed.

Today, the picture I saw was of this young man giving a training program to refugees from his community on peacebuilding to recruit them to join the Citizens Peace Movement of Iraq. The work that we have been involved in recently in Iraq, like much of our work around the world as a peacebuilding organization, was carried out upon invitation and request. We work anywhere in the world only when we have been asked to be there by the people and the communities themselves—and often by the parties that are in conflict. Our goal and our task are to assist and support them in developing their own engagement and processes to be able to prevent or end violence and build sustainable peace from within.”

Kai Brand-Jacobsen was recently in Bucharest to deliver training on “Mediation and Negotiation in Transition and Post-War Governance and Recovery” to senior government leadership and officials from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Montenegro, Palestine, Moldova, Tunisia and Romania in cooperation with the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNDP.

Kosmos Journal subscribers have access to this complete article beginning November 4, 2015. 

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