in a War Zone:
A Journey of Peace to Iraq
Kara Speltz, 65, spent three days in Baghdad witnessing and documenting
how the U.S. bombing of Iraq was affecting the country and its residents.
The Iraqi government expelled her and other members of her group from
the Christian Peacemakers Team for taking unauthorized pictures.
Speltz, a Soulforce veteran,
and the others had reached the Iraqi capital just days after the bombing
had begun. They crossed both the American and Iraqi front lines as they
made their way to Baghdad from Jordan. Leaving the country was equally
as harrowing. Speltz kept a journal during her journey and has agreed
to share them with Whosoever readers.
3/14 - 3/16: It's the weekend prior to our trip. Lots of last minute
errands to do, but our parish is celebrating St. Patty's day on Friday
night, and I decided to go in order to have a chance to say good-bye to
friends. One parishioner gave me $10 and asked me to light two candles
in a church in Iraq -- one for his mother who is seriously ill, the other
for himself. I told him I'd be honored to do that.
3/15/03: The pastor of New Spirit Community Church (a MCC, UCC,
DOC congregation), called and asked me if I had time to attend the Sunday
service there. She explained that the service would be for peace and that
the parents of a young man who had just been sent to Kuwait and is awaiting
further orders will be there and she wanted all of us to meet.
3/16/03: After attending my own parish Mass, I went to New Spirit
Community Church for services. The parents of the young recruit brought
a picture of their son, Bryan, with their new grandson, and they talked
about their fears and their hopes. They had brought the prayer of St.
Francis with them and we read it together. Through tears I explained that
I have chosen St. Francis as my patron saint on this trip to Iraq because
it was St. Francis who traveled to the Holy Land to try and end the crusades.
There was hardly a dry eye in the place as we sang hymns and prayed and
at the end of the service the parents gave me the picture of their son
Bryan and ask me to carry it with me to Baghdad. I promised to do that
and asked if I could leave it at the church where I will light the candles
for my friend Terry and his mother and they agreed. They asked if they
could take me to the airport on Tuesday, but I declined having already
ordered the Super Shuttle and I have to be at the airport very early.
The experience of this day was overwhelming. Clearly the soldier, the
parents of this young soldier, the community of New Spirit and I are all
one family - the sense of oneness is very strong.
Later on Sunday night as I drove to have dinner with my son, daughter-in-law,
and two grandkids, I saw at least four to six gatherings of people on
various Oakland street corners with candles, all coming together to silently
make their statement for peace. I remember Robert Muller's recent statements
about this mass movement of humanity standing together to say "no" to
war. There is something very powerful happening. Robert Muller is absolutely
right. Never before have so many people taken a stand for peace. It is
so important that we don't let the press make us believe that this war
is inevitable. It is NOT. But if we accept the inevitability, then we
concede our power. At this moment in history, it is essential that we
live, eat, sleep, dream and constantly profess peace. That is where our
power lies. Millions of people committed to peace. ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE
3/22/03 - Amman, Jordan
We are still in Amman and the war has begun. It's looking very much like
we will not get our visas to Baghdad. We will return again tomorrow to
check once again. If they have not been issued, then we are considering
going to the Hebron. It has been a bit frustrating watching the war on
CNN here in Jordan. There is a family here with us at the hotel from Basra,
Iraq. People here are very friendly and not anti-American at all.
One of my great joys has been how many peace people know of Soulforce.
When I introduced myself to Jim Douglas, who has been someone I've respected
for more years than I can remember. He wrote the book "The Nonviolent
Cross." He saw my Soulforce jacket and said, "Soulforce - that's a great
group!" Again after meeting a Jim Jennings from Conscience
International he also recognized the name Soulforce.
The weather here is cool and rainy, and we expect that Hebron will probably
be the same.
Our team is a fabulous group of 10 folks and I am blessed to be able to
spend this time with them.
I can only pray that perhaps tomorrow we will be given permission to go
to Baghdad, but it is not looking good. But the opportunity to meet with
Palestinians and Israelis in the midst of the struggle there will also
This trip from the beginning was always in God's hands and we will keep
our faith that God has special plans for us.
3/24/03 - Amman, Jordan
Much has happened since my last report from Amman! One of our members
has returned to the states because it was looking like we were not going
to be allowed into Iraq. So we are down to nine now. We've been taking
turns going daily to the Iraqi embassy to find out if our documentation
has arrived. Each day, we have been told no.
Yesterday it was my turn to go. The documentation hadn't arrived, but
I spoke with a really lovely man whose name was Abdul Amir, who seemed
to take a shine to me. He told me to wait and he would talk to the Ambassador.
After approximately two hours he came out and said I could have a visa,
but not the other eight. He said this was a personal invitation! And the
rest would have to wait until the documentation came.
I returned to the team to see what they thought we should do, and we decided
to return this morning hoping that the documentation would have been sent
from Baghdad. It had not arrived and so I pleaded with Mr. Amir saying
I couldn't possibly travel by myself, and couldn't he please obtain one
more visa for my friend, Dave. We'd decided as a team that Dave would
be the best person to accompany me, since he would like to stay beyond
the March 31st return date.
After a half-hour wait, Mr. Amir returned and said that this was "just
for you, so that you have someone to accompany you," and gave Dave a visa!
So now with two of the nine of us with visas Dave and I leave very, very
early tomorrow morning for Baghdad. We will join six Christian Peacemakers
who are there from our previous team.
At this point a number of the six are in tents near a water purification
facility and pediatric hospital, and I would imagine that Dave and I will
join them. The other seven are now committed to staying here in Amman
in hopes of getting their visas also. So the trip to Hebron is off at
I clearly do not understand why, Mr. Amir responded so kindly to me and
my pleading. But I am so grateful. It has been an amazing experience spending
time here in Amman and particularly at the Iraqi embassy. Not one person
among the throngs of people who are there trying to get legal papers,
has been anything but friendly to us. They seem to understand that the
very fact that we are there indicates that we are their friends. I spoke
with one woman from Baghdad who asked me where I was from. This was after
two nights of continuous bombing of Baghdad. I asked forgiveness for what
our country has done to her people and she smiled and took my hand.
I continue to give thanks for your prayers and for this most amazing journey
that God has placed me on. I'll try to continue to write from Baghdad,
but be assured that CPT will keep you informed concerning my safety. We're
still hoping to be home on the 1st of April.
3/25/03 - Amman, Jordan
By this time I had hoped we'd be well on our way to Baghdad, however,
the Christian Peacemaker Team offices in Chicago, have asked us to wait
and see if we can't get visas for all the members of our team. So they
are at the Iraqi Embassy, while Dave and I are at an Internet cafe, near
the University of Jordan.
So let me take this time to let you know a bit about how are days have
been here in Amman. I am the early riser of the group, and so every morning,
I walk 3 blocks to the bakery to pick up bread for our breakfast, which
is usually bread and cheese, and coffee. But the last few days, I've discovered
a wonderful store with the most wonderful fruit. The tangerines are the
best I've ever tasted. We'd run out of jam, so on my way to the bakery
at 6:30 a.m., I was looking for a store that might have some, and found
a place with hard-boiled eggs. What a treat that was. At 8 a.m. every
morning we share worship together and now a number of others who are in
the hotel have started joining us in a little room, Jim Douglas has named,
"the upper room."
This morning two of the Iraqi Peace Team who were in Baghdad, arrived
around 5 a.m. after traveling all night. They tell us the road is still
open, and while there was a burned out bridge, a burned out bus and ambulance,
the journey was fairly safe. So we are in great hopes of leaving tomorrow,
probably around 2 a.m., if all goes well. There is an expression people
here use that I will, I suspect forever, use now. It's "Insh'Allah," which
means "if God willing." They use it all the time. What deep faith I have
seen here in Ammon. So "Insh'Allah" for tomorrow morning.
Sunday night we joined the small English-speaking parish several blocks
away from our hotel for Mass and it was indeed a beautiful and inspiring
Mass. They remembered Rachel Corey, the woman who was crushed by bulldozers
in Palestine. And the music seemed like it had been picked just for us,
speaking about trusting in God as our shield as we left our homelands.
We will return to the hotel this afternoon, to find out whether our team
was successful in getting their visas. If not, we will have to decide
about whether Dave and I should go ahead and try to reach Baghdad.
Nothing has brought me closer to God than this trip, where we are clearly
in God's hands with a loving welcoming people who seem to comprehend as
we Americans don't that we are all brothers and sisters.
There is an expression the Jewish people use - "Next year in Jerusalem."
So, my next report, Insh'Allah, will be "next day in Baghdad."
3/30/03 - Back in Amman, Jordan
We're back from Baghdad; five of our team stayed on and four have returned
to carry the truth about this war to the American press and people. The
trip to and from Baghdad was harrowing to say the least.
On our trip into Iraq, we crossed front lines twice. There were many burned
cars, busses and trucks as we traveled. About 150 kilometers from Baghdad,
we came upon a truck on fire. We slowed down and saw American troops on
the hill above. They had their guns trained on us and motioned for us
to stop. We did and waved white flags. Eventually they motioned us in
the first car to continue on.
The second van was still at the site and we waited for them to start up,
but before they could, four Iraqi soldiers started running for the van,
the Americans motioned for the second van to take off but the Iraqis were
nearly up to the van. The van was able to get away, but as we watched
from the first van, it looked like the Iraqis might actually catch up
to them. We continued on past the Americans, and shortly thereafter a
station wagon passed us with its back windows shot out. We learned from
them that they had not slowed down and the Americans had shot at them.
We then came to an Iraqi checkpoint and were worried that some of the
soldiers might consider confiscating our vehicle, but they waved us past,
after reading the statement we had written in English and Arabic. The
"I am a member
of the Christian
Peacemaker Teams. We are against the war and all other forms of
are going to Baghdad to join other members of the Christian Peacemaker
Teams who have been there, living among the Iraqi people since October.
We wish to stay with them during this terrible war that is being waged
are trying to protect the Iraqi people and the institutions of health,
welfare, and education that are important to life. We will visit and
support hospitals, water purification plants, schools and orphanages.
are with the Iraqi people because we know God loves them and weeps for
The looks on the faces of those who read our statement was one of awe
and puzzlement. We arrived in Baghdad around 4:30 and got settled in at
the hotel we were staying at. We met at 6 p.m. to worship together with
the other members of the team who were already there. In the midst of
the worship, the bombs began. Most were far off, but some felt near.
The bombing continued on and off during the entire time we were there.
One of the most devastating things we learned was that the U.S. is using
anti-personnel fragmentation weapons in Baghdad!!!!!! We visited a home
and picked up several of the "pellets." Jim Douglass who is part of our
CPT team, recognized them from his time in Vietnam.
We've met hundreds of Iraqis as we toured the bombing sights. Not one
single person was anything but friendly and welcoming to us. It is difficult
to sleep at night because of all the bombs. But amazingly, the Iraqis
continue life, having birthday celebrations, planting seed, and just generally
going on with life.
Because the Americans have destroyed all communications facilities, there
now are no phones or emails out of Baghdad. The Iraqis picked up six of
our team members as they walked between the two hotels, but had stopped
to see some of the latest damage from the bombing the night before. They
were held for six hours and we had no idea where they were. Some of us
feared they might have been picked up by hostile militia forces that would
hold them hostage. Finally, our "minder," the government official who
was responsible for us, located them at a police station and was able
to have them released.
The next day the six were given orders to leave Iraq. Since this was just
a day prior to our planned return, and there was no telling when we might
have an opportunity to leave, I asked to go with them. So five stayed
and four of us left.
On our way back from Baghdad to Amman, one of the cars we were traveling
in had a blowout and ended up in a culvert. All five of them were injured,
but our convoy was unaware until we got about a half-hour away. Immediately
Iraqi people stopped and transported our injured to the nearest town.
This town had just endured severe bombing four days previous. The bombs
had destroyed the hospital there along with a number of other buildings.
But they brought them to the small building that was being used to replace
the hospital and treated them with love and kindness, sharing the few
medical supplies they still had. I found myself wondering if the same
thing had happened here in the states---if Iraqis had bombed our town,
destroying our hospital, would we treat them with the same love and care?
Or would we beat them to death in anger?
We are here in Amman, and leave on Tuesday for the states. But last night,
as we drifted off to sleep, we could hear a B-52 bomber and each of us
feared that the bombs would start dropping. Americans are being systematically
lied to about this war, and I'm coming back to help spread the truth about
this awful war that we are waging.
4/2/03 - Back in Oakland, California
I got back from Amman at 11 p.m. last night! My body is still on Baghdad
time, so I'm running on a very strange timetable right now. I've been
spending the morning trying to arrange for press interviews to share with
people my experiences in Amman and Baghdad.
The trip back was a 12.5-hour nonstop from Amman to JFK and a 5.5-hour
nonstop from JFK to SFO. I've had enough flying now to last me a year,
but, of course, will be back on the road again soon for Soulforce.
There are some further stories to tell about our time in Amman after returning
from Baghdad. As I mentioned, four of our team were injured in the crash
outside of Rutba. After we finally found them in the little makeshift
hospital in Rutba, we all crowded into the GMC and the other cab and made
our way to the Iraqi/Jordan border. The drivers, who were Iraqi, dropped
us at the border. There was a humanitarian team that greeted us there
and provided an ambulance for our most severely injured team member and
a bus for the rest of us all the way to Amman. Weldon, who had broken
ribs, a cracked collarbone and several other injuries had to be transported
in 3 different ambulances, because the first one blew an engine, and the
second one blew a tire. So it took almost 13 hours from the time of the
accident until getting Weldon to the hospital in Amman.
The next day our other two members, Cliff and Shane, who had also been
injured and treated at the Rutba clinic, went to the hospital for further
treatment. Cliff had cut his head severely and had 10 stitches in Rutba
(with no anesthetic) and had to have three more in Amman. Given the amount
of blood that Cliff lost in the accident, it is clear to all of us that
the Rutba medical people saved his life.
The doctor who treated Shane offered to pay for Shane's bill he was so
touched by our witness. The nurse who treated Cliff asked if he could
come over the next day and wash Cliff's hair and re-bandage the wound,
and did exactly that late Monday night at the hotel where we were staying.
Over and over again, I watched the witness of these caring Islamic people
and felt that never again, could I sing that song, "They'll know we are
Christians by our love." For I have rarely witnessed such love and caring
as I did from these people.
Even though I had a close Syrian girl friend when I was growing up and
a good friend now, who is Lebanese, I had to acknowledge that I had been
affected by the cultural bias our society presents concerning people of
Arabic background. I suspect it is not unlike the situation with Native
Americans. For years, we were taught that "Indians were savages." Only
now have we begun to recognize the deep spiritual nature of Native American
culture. And for me, I have just begun to learn about what the Islamic
culture has to teach us about love, forgiveness and welcome. I feel so
blessed to have been allowed this most amazing journey, and I thank each
of you for your prayers and support.
Kara - Oakland, 4/2/03
Copyright © 2003 by the author
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