KRISTINA OLSEN’S REMARKS AT PEACEFUL TOMORROWS’ PRESS CONFERENCE, 1/15/03 UPON HER RETURN FROM IRAQ

We went to Iraq to bear witness to the suffering of the people there. We at Peaceful Tomorrows have all suffered the loss of a family member to violence and we share a common bond with people in the world who suffer similarly. I feel that we accomplished what we set out to, in bearing witness to the suffering and in the healing connections that we made with some of the people in Iraq. One of the most meaningful moments for me was when we visited the family of Jamil Fedah, a man who was killed when his car was struck by an errant US bomb in the no fly zone in Basrah on December 1st 2002, just one month prior to our visit.

Shortly upon entering their home, I was taken by the hand by Jamil’s daughter Sahar, a 23 year-old mechanical engineer, and whisked into the room where her mother Ikbal sat on the floor, flanked by several female relatives, draped in her black abaya. As I crouched down, taking Ikbal’s hands in mine, I could feel her trembling and then she began to sob. I too had tears and I just kept saying to her:”I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry”.

Beside those few words, there was an unspoken understanding between us, of our mutual loss. Even though the specific circumstances of how our loved-ones were killed were different, the feelings were the same. We visited for about an hour, not wanting the time to come to an end. I sat on the couch with Sahar, facing her mother. When our visit had come to a close, Sahar looked into my eyes and said: “Kristina, I loved you the moment I saw you.” I will never forget this experience or these beautiful people, as long as I live.

Wherever we went in Iraq, people expressed a deep desire for Peace and were gracious amd welcoming to us dspite the current threatened military attack.

A recurrent theme expressed by some of the Iraqi people that we met was that they could remember a time when the US and Iraq shared a more mutually respectful relationship, when many people throughout Iraq would send their children off to study in universities and colleges in the US because of the high quality of education they were able to receive there. In fact many Iraqi college professors obtained their advanced degrees in the US and some of their children were born and partially raised there in the process. The Dean of the University of Baghdad told us that the school was designed by an American architect. He expressed a hope that: “New bridges could be built and new channels for cooperation between the US and Iraq could be opened up.” We were greeted with smiles throughout our trip, but behind the generous smiles were a deep sense of sadness and fear.

For me, it would be unthinkable for the US to bomb a country whose people are already suffering so deeply. We do not want to see any further suffering or loss of life, wether it be military or civilian, American or Iraqi. We believe that if the American people were fully aware of the extent of the suffering of the people in Iraq, that they would want to do the right thing and not support this completely unjust and unecessary war.

Pope John Paul II said, “Iraq, the land of the prophets, where the people suffer so deeply from an oppressive dictatorship and 12 years of economic embargo; A war in Iraq would be a defeat for humanity.” We need to reclaim our humanity and open up the channels for resolving our conflicts through non-violent means. Getting to know the people and listening to their stories, is a first step in bringing about understanding, which I believe is the key to Peace in our world.

Filed in: Voices of Peaceful Tomorrows

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