December 1-7, 2003
In a trip that is unprecedented in the history of US military activity, a group of American family members of US soldiers currently serving in Iraq and veterans of previous US wars traveled to the conflict zone. During their visit, from December 1-7, the group met with a diverse cross-section of Iraqis, as well as American civilians and military personnel, to learn for themselves what conditions are like for the troops and Iraqis under the US occupation.
The group was not composed of foreign policy or Middle East experts, but ordinary US citizens who decided to take an extraordinary journey, putting their own lives at risk, to play an active role in shaping US-Iraqi relations. They included four parents of soldiers in Iraq, one of whom was killed in March. Two Vietnam veterans and one Gulf War veteran, who has a son in the military, accompanied the family members. Some of the participants are members of the organizations Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace. The trip was organized in the US by the San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange and in Iraq by the Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad.
The group flew to Amman, Jordan, and then made a 12-hour overland drive across the desert to Baghdad. Total travel time for the group members averaged 36 hours between the east and west coasts to Baghdad.
While in Baghdad, the group met with the head of the US Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer, and had meetings with his deputy, Ambassador Richard Jones, and with the second in command in the military, Major General John Gallinetti. While the group was not given permission to have formal meetings with US soldiers on military bases, they did have regular informal interactions with soldiers at border crossings, check-points, on patrols and guard duty.
In addition, two of the delegates with children serving in Iraq were able to locate and visit their children in outlying bases in Fallujah and Tikrit. The parent of the soldier killed in Iraq during the war returned to the spot in Diwaniya where his son was killed.
The delegation met with Iraqi members of the Governing Council, including the current Council President Abdul Aziz Al Hakim, Communist Party Secretary General Hamid Majid and Governing Council spokesperson Hamid Al-Kahfaji. The group also had the opportunity to meet with important Shiite and Sunni religious leaders, as well as Iraqi human rights groups, women's organizations and workers associations.
But perhaps most informative was the group's interactions with ordinary Iraqis in schools, hospitals, universities, mosques, long gas lines, street protests and in their homes. Delegates visited the Abu Ghraib prison and talked to prisoners' families and interviewed former prisoners about prison conditions. At a Shiite religious school, the local community set up a tribunal for the delegation to hear testimony after testimony from people who had been detained, beaten, brutally interrogated, shot or had their loved ones killed by the occupation forces.
During this week of intense interactions, Iraqis of all types told the group they were glad that Saddam Hussein was no longer in power; but they were always quick to add they want the occupation of Iraq by US troops and administrators to end. The delegation left with some very strong and disturbing impressions, as well as urgent recommendations.
[See the above link to read the complete report.]