Diary of a Human Shield

American and Canadian peace activists report from Baghdad

Christian Peacemaker Teams, a program of Brethren, Quaker and Mennonite Churches, has posted volunteers in Iraq since Oct 25, 2002. More recently, additional delegations have gone to Iraq to educate the public and "get in the way" of potential military attacks. This is a diary by American and Canadian volunteers who are now in Iraq.

Click for a map of where the human shields are situated in Baghdad


Wednesday, April 2, 2003,

5:30 p.m.

This entry was written by CPT member Scott Kerr in Amman, Jordan.

The team decided to leave Baghdad for a number of factors, including the fact that food was becoming increasingly scarce. Ninety-five percent of street activity has ceased, especially since the allies have begun bombing in the day as well as in the evening.

Scott Kerr
Scott Kerr at
a bombed home

For the most part, the bombing's degree of accuracy is incredible. But what people don't realize is that each bombing blows out all the glass from the windows for two or three blocks around the bomb site. That's what's causing most of the injuries. We had pictures shaking in our room and felt gusts of air when bombs fell blocks away. These gusts can blow out birthday candles even when the bomb falls several miles away.

I wondered whether civilian bombings were intentional--including the bombing of a school we visited. In baseball, we call it 'chin music' when a pitcher throws a baseball at a batter's chin to shake him up. Maybe the bombings in the civilian areas are meant to show that no one's safe.

After a while, air raid sirens became so frequent and unreliable that we stopped listening to them. What made more of an impression was the Muslim call to prayer coming from mosque minarets on most nights just as the bombs started to fall.

There were increasing restrictions placed on the team by the Iraqi government. It was like after 9/11 when our government became more watchful of foreigners. This included being more concerned for our safety. They didn't want someone who had just lost a child in a bombing to take revenge. Additionally, the Iraqi government was concerned that photos our delegation was taking might be used by U.S. intelligence. It has been burning oil around Baghdad to make U.S. satellite photography intended to assess the damage its bombs were inflicting more difficult.

However, at the time we left, we were still mostly experiencing great hospitality and friendship from ordinary Iraqis. We will spend the next few days discerning next steps. We are not ruling out a return to Baghdad, and we still feel a deep concern for the plight of civilians there.

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

9 a.m. EST

This entry was written by CPT staffer Doug Pritchard in Toronto.

Scott Kerr made a very brief phone call from the Jordanian border to Gene Stoltzfus at CPT's Chicago office to say that all of the team in Iraq had now left Baghdad and were at the border. They will travel on to Amman and should arrive there by early afternoon Tuesday. We understand that some members of the Iraq Peace Team, our sister group, are still in Baghdad. We have no information yet as to why the CPT team left. They will likely regroup in Amman and begin planning future work in the region.

Saturday, March 29, 2003,

10:15 p.m. EST

This entry was written by CPT staff member Gene Stoltzfus in Chicago, based on a phone conversation with the team in Jordan.

Seven members of Christian Peacemaker Teams; two members of the Iraq Peace Team, a related group; and three other internationals were expelled by the Iraqi government today. All left Baghdad at 9:30 a.m. local time in three vehicles and arrived at the Jordanian border at approximately 6:00 p.m. local time.

The expelled CPT members include Peggy Gish; Cliff Kindy; Weldon Nisly, 57, of Seattle, Wash.; Betty Scholten, 69, of Mt. Rainier, Md.; Kara Speltz, 65, of Oakland, Calif.; Jonathon and Leah Wilson-Hartgrove, both 22, of Devon, Pa.

One possible reason for the expulsion, according to Kindy, was the intense level of anxiety throughout Baghdad. The government "minder" assigned to their group ordered the expulsion after team members walked from their hotel to a meeting in another hotel, documenting the destruction in the streets along the way. His own house had been hit by bombs the previous night.

Kindy reported that "the road from Baghdad to the border was clear." However, one of their taxis blew a tire on the highway and rolled into a ditch--injuring Kindy, Nisly and an IPT team member They were taken to a nearby children's hospital in southwestern Iraq, but the hospital had been bombed, so they had to be transferred to a clinic.

"These Iraqis, whose hospital had just been destroyed by U.S. bombs, graciously dressed our wounds and gave us medicine--precious medicine from their very limited supply due to 12 years of sanctions," Kindy said.

Upon reaching the Jordanian border, Nisly was taken by ambulance to Amman where he remains hospitalized with possible broken bones. Kindy received 10 stitches for a head wound and Claiborne suffered a dislocated shoulder.

Kindy reported that the nine members of CPT who remain in Baghdad are continuing their ministry, which includes visiting hospitals, clinics, orphanages, churches and mosques. Since the war's outbreak, the team has paid visits to families in about 10 different neighborhoods whose homes were bombed--ncluding a young man, just married, whose wife was decapitated by a missile strike on their wedding night.

CPT lost direct phone and e-mail communication with the Baghdad team two days ago when U.S. bombs destroyed a major Iraqi communications facility.

According to Kindy, some of the group in Amman plan to remain to provide support for team members who remain in Baghdad--Jim Douglas of Birmingham, Ala., David Havard of Sheffield, England; Scott Kerr of Downers Grove, Ill., Jerry & Sis Levin of Birmingham, Ala., Sean O'Sullivan of Los Angeles; Lisa Martens of Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Stewart Vriesinga of Lucknow, Ontario.

This entry was written by Doug Hostetter, a pastor at Evanston Mennonite Church in Indiana, and Middle East Correspondent for American Friends Service Committee.

A three-vehicle convoy started out Saturday morning heading Amman, Jordan, on the road that runs through the Western Iraqi desert. The group included Iraqi drivers for each vehicle, eight Americans and an Irishman from Christian Peacemakers Teams and Voices in the Wilderness, two Japanese reporters, and a Korean peace activist.

There were downed bridges, destroyed gas stations, and blackened shells of vehicles by the side of the road. American and British planes were bombing near the road, so the drivers spread their vehicles apart and drove as fast as possible to minimize being bombed.

The last of the vehicles was a few hours from the Jordanian border traveling at about 80 miles per hour when a tire blew, causing the diver to lose control. The vehicle landed on its side at the bottom of a 10-foot ditch. They were able to open the doors on the top side of the vehicle and eventually pulled everyone out. Everyone was bruised, badly shaken, but all were conscious. The car was totaled, and the other two cars were well out of sight down the road and no one had a satellite phone.

Because of to the bombing, there were very vehicles on the road. The group was just beginning to panic when a man pulled over and asked if he could help. The driver packed the five passengers into his car and drove to the closest Iraqi town, Rutba, about three miles from the site of the accident. Rutba is a city of about 20,000 people located about 70 miles east of the Jordanian border.

The group was astounded to see that the town, with no apparent military structures, had been devastated by bombing three days earlier. Much of the town was destroyed, including the children's hospital in which two children were killed in the bombing. The group was taken to a 20-foot by 20-foot four-bed clinic.

By the time everyone in the group had been treated, about two hours after they had arrived, the two other cars in the convoy had returned and found them. The group warmly thanked the people of Rutba for their hospitality, and tried unsuccessfully to pay the clinic and doctor for their services. "We treat everyone in our clinic: Muslim, Christian, Iraqi or American. We all are part of the same family you know," the doctor said.

Friday, March 28, 2003,

2 p.m. EST

Phone contact with the team is cut off due to a missile attack on the telephone exchange serving southern Baghdad. But the team was able to establish modem communication via satellite. The following was written by Cathy Breen, 54, a nurse from New York City, who is with a sister group called the Iraq Peace Team


Heavy bombing woke me out of a deep sleep last night. Earlier I'd been on the telephone with a friend who told me that in her neighborhood a missile had struck the day before, wounding 29 and killing five. Among the dead was a 12-year-old. "Cathy" she said, "please tell them to stop talking about humanitarian aide. Please tell them to shut up!" How ludicrous to speak of humanitarian aide as the country is being bombed.

I am anxious to get word to you about some of the casualties, as I've been to the trauma hospitals to see for myself. As I write you, the bombs continue and the windows threaten to explode. Should I move somewhere else? There really is no safe place.

Let me tell you about Amar, a 7-year-old boy who has an emergency chest tube to drain blood as he suffered multiple shell injuries. His mother, Hannah, died in the direct hit to their house this morning. Then there is Mueen, 8 years old also the son of a farmer who died in that bombing. Ten-year-old Rusel was wounded in an explosion outside her door. We saw the shrapnel in her chest on the xray, and she, too, has a chest tube. We played with a finger puppet frog for a moment, and I decided to leave it with her. Her father said, "Bush said he'd bring democracy to Iraq. This is not democracy. This is terrorism!"

An elderly woman, Fatima, had fallen during the bombing and fractured her hip. She had already had surgery for the hip, but her ankle too is in a cast and her knee is wounded. Her husband said, "We are not the enemy or against you. We love freedom for every man, for every human in the world. Bush is the enemy against humanity."

Tell me Mr. Bush, What should I do with my anger, with my rage? Can you tell me what to say to the people here when they ask me what you have done? They know I am from America. As I meet their questioning eyes and despairing expressions, I have no words. I can only say "I'm sorry" on behalf of us all. And, please God, stay the hand of my nation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003,

10 a.m. EST

This entry was written by Doug Pritchard in Toronto, based on a phone conversation with Peggy Gish.

The sandstorm continues. For the previous eight hours it had turned the sky orange. It was very eerie. During the storm it was raining mud because of all the sand in the air. People say this is the worst such storm in seven years. Peggy believes this is an act of God, that God is distressed and is sending a sign.

Peggy Gish
Peggy Gish

Peggy had spent four previous nights at the Water Treatment Plant. Relations within the group at times are difficult because everyone is under severe stress and needing to find ways to deal with it. She was also affected by the petroleum fires which filled the sky with fumes and soot.

Peggy has made a regular habit of working two or three hours every morning at the Sisters of Charity Orphange near the Al-Daar Hotel. The children have severe physical disabilities. She and the Iraqi staff and volunteers help feed the children and play with them on floor mats.

There was a lot of bombing during the day today from heavy B52 bombers.

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