NAJAF, IRAQ - April 23 - As numerous people from nonprofit organizations working in Iraq evacuated the country during the past week, an independent emergency delegation of U.S. civilians was preparing to enter the conflict-torn nation,traveling to the tense stand-off around Najaf, where the U.S. military recently deployed almost 3,000 troops for a looming assault to crush Shiite rebels there.
The Najaf Emergency Peace Team, "Peace Between Peoples", a handful of determined volunteers from several well-established peace/global justice/human rights and religious organizations, has now arrived in the area, to place themselves "nonviolently, symbolically and physically" between the U.S. armed forces massed nearby and the civilian population of the ancient holy city - in the way of any American military assault.
The delegation has received messages of encouragement from religious and community leaders in south-central Iraq, including an advisor to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. "We understand the dangers of our journey, but we are determined to try and contribute in our own small way to peace and justice for the people of Najaf and Iraq. Only when peacemakers are willing to shoulder some of the same risks that soldiers take in war, can we begin to move away from the cycle of violence that grips human society at the dawn of the 21st century," says the group's statement.
Meg Lumsdaine, Peter Lumsdaine, Mario Galvan, Trish Schuh, and Brian Buckley - of California, New York and Virginia, respectively - are now in south-central Iraq to carry out their peace mission.
Rev. Meg Lumsdaine is an ordained Lutheran pastor who has previously been involved in human rights delegations to Latin America and Iraq. Peter Lumsdaine is coordinator of the Military Globalization Analysis Project and organizer of the Najaf delegation. Mario Galvan, a high school teacher, is a national board member of Peace Action, with 100,000 members throughout the U.S., and a founding member of the Zapatista Solidarity Coalition. Trish Schuh co-founded the Military Families Support Network in 1990 and was involved in Military Families Speak Out. Brian Buckley is a carpenter and member of the Little Flower Catholic Worker community.
The Najaf emergency delegation can be contacted for interviews and more information by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), as their peace witness and nonviolent challenge to the U.S. military assault plan unfolds in the days ahead.