WSU English professor off to Iraq as part of Christian Peacemaker Team

Oct 13 2011 - 6:27am



OGDEN -- An adjunct professor of English at Weber State University and former Vietnam-era Green Beret is going to northern Iraq for two weeks as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team that will document human rights abuses.

John Beal, 61, plans to send back reports during his trip that the Standard-Examiner will carry on its website, He left Wednesday and returns Oct. 25.

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of the historic peace churches -- Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers -- with support and membership from Catholics and a range of Protestant denominations.

It sends people to trouble spots around the globe to attempt peaceful intervention or just to serve as witnesses to abuse.

This is Beal's second recent visit to the Middle East. In 2003, he went to Israel and Palestine as a member of the International Solidarity Movement to see the problems Palestinians face from their point of view.

This time, he's going with a CPT team to visit Kurdish villages along the border between northern Iraq and Turkey, a highly unstable part of the world where a part of the Iraq war few Americans hear about is being waged.

Kurds live in territory that is now northern Iraq and nearby Turkey. After World War I, their territory was divided between Iraq and Turkey, and Kurds have been struggling to form an independent Kurdistan ever since.

Iraqi Kurdistan is now a semi-autonomous region, but Iran, Iraq and Turkey have all fought over the area.

Kurdistan is the section of Iraq that rose up against the government of Saddam Hussein at the urging of President George H.W. Bush after the 1991 Gulf War. The uprising was put down by Hussein when the U.S. failed to intervene.

Beal said part of the reason the CPT team is visiting the region is that the area is likely to become more unstable as American forces leave Iraq.

Turkey, concerned that guerilla fighters from Kurdistan are attempting to free the Kurdish regions of Turkey, has been shelling villages inside Iraqi Kurdistan. At the same time, Beal said, "the Iranians have been shelling them from across their border."

People in the villages are stuck in the middle.

"We're documenting human rights violations, because the villages don't have any spokesmen," Beal said. "It's the same as it is for dirt-poor people everywhere. It's the same old thing: The bosses are doing their thing, and the rest get left behind."

Beal's own background doesn't seem like that of a peace activist. He is a Vietnam veteran and former Green Beret, but also likes to drive around Ogden in an old Swiss military vehicle bedecked with peace symbols.

Why is he going to Iraq?

"The obvious answer is, to stop war," he said. "But the less obvious answer is, we keep sending our young people over. As one of the senders, I don't feel comfortable until I'm a sendee."

His specific duties with the team of six people are vague, he said. "I guess we're going to talk to some village elders and a governor or two."

The CPT website ( states the "delegates will meet with representatives of nongovernmental organizations, human rights groups, displaced persons and government officials."

"They will gain a perspective on the challenges facing people in northern Iraq and the impact there of violence in other areas of Iraq and along the borders of the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government)," it states.

"The delegation will participate in the work of CPT's longer-term project of reporting on human rights abuses and supporting local reconciliation."

The visit is not without risk. The U.S. State Department advises all Americans to avoid travel to Iraq unless absolutely necessary.

CPT materials given to Beal include tips on how to survive being kidnapped and a warning that if any in the group are killed or injured, their evacuation -- or the removal of their remains -- is their responsibility.

CPT members have been kidnapped. The CPT website states that four were kidnapped in Iraq in 2005. One was killed and three were released. Two others were kidnapped briefly in 2007 but released.

"We won't allow ourselves to be ransomed. We won't allow the military to intervene if we're captured," Beal said.

The policy is designed -- they hope -- to keep them from being kidnapped in the first place.

Beal said locals generally welcome CPT teams.

"What the local people say about the CPT is, their presence improves their lives, because it raises awareness," he said. "Their issues get recognized more. Oftentimes, the CPT presence prevents violence by mediating issues."

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