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Peter Lumsdaine on Democracy Now

Amy Goodman - peace witnesses in Najaf w/contact #s

Peter Lumsdaine on Democracy Now

Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

.... * Peter Lumsbaine, head of The Najaf Emergency Peace Team, a
handful of peace activists who have arrived in Najaf. They plan to act
as human shields if US troops goes into the holy city to crush Shiite
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

* Rahul Mahajan, is an independent journalist and author. He has just
come out of Iraq, where he spent nearly a month reporting from the
ground. He was one of the only unembedded journalists to make it into
Fallujah. He runs a blog called


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AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Peter Lumsbaine. He is with the Najaf
Emergency Peace Team, a handful of peace activists who have arrived in
Najaf. They plan to act as human shields if the U.S. troops go into the
holy city. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Peter Lumsbaine.

PETER LUMSBAINE: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us just where you are?

PETER LUMSBAINE: Yes. I am in the downtown area, not the center, but the
downtown area of Najaf, Iraq, with the Najaf Emergency Peace Team, as
you said. We have been here for a few days. Before that, we were in
Karbala, which is also in a fairly tense situation as well. And we have
met with representatives of Ayatollah Ali Sistani office and
representatives of Moqtada al-Sadr's organization. We are not using the
term human shield, but we are here as a witness and protective
accompaniment present to stand with the people of Najaf and appeal to
the American troops to not attack the city, which we believe would be a
complete disaster for everybody involved. So, we are here on the ground
in Najaf, Iraq, right now.

AMY GOODMAN: What are representatives of Moqtada al-Sadr saying right

PETER LUMSBAINE: Well, I have to say that every Iraqi that we have met
with, and we were warned many times, to not come to Iraq. We arrived in
Amman, Jordan, when many NGOs and people from different organizations
were on their way out of Iraq and had come to Amman. Many people warned
us not to come in. This would be dangerous. We know there are dangers.
We recognize that. We have to say that every Iraqi we have met and
talked to has been cordial and welcoming to us. We have encountered
absolutely no hostility. The representatives of Ayatollah Ali Sistani
and Moqtada al-Sadr have been gracious and courteous to us in our
discussions. They said they want peace, not war, they want a negotiated
settlement, and that they want democracy and elections and -- for Iraqis
to determine their own future. This is what they told us. But as you
say, they have also warned if the Americans push for a confrontation,
that they will be unleashing very powerful forces of armed resistance
here in Iraq if they do that. So, I think they have pushed for the idea
of the U.S. drawing back from the cities, from confrontation and
allowing the Iraqi people to proceed with elections and determining
their own future. But they are also very ready, I think, to fight if
that's what it comes down to. In Kufa or near there last night there was
a major confrontation, as you reported.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a difference between the approaches of Sistani and
Moqtada al-Sadr?

PETER LUMSBAINE: Yes, there is. We are not really here to engage in a
debate on one side or the other, but we are listening carefully to what
many Iraqis are saying, people in Karbala and people in Najaf and also
people with these organizations here in Najaf as well. Yes, I think
there is a difference. I think there's common ground in terms of the
demands for prompt elections, this year, this summer, before the U.S.
Presidential elections. I think this is not sometimes publicly stated,
but I think this is a key point. Many, many Iraqis, including people in
Sistani's and al-Sadr's organizations want prompt national elections, I
would say, clearly before the U.S. Presidential elections, and also they
do not want American troops going into Najaf. They want American troops
to stand down from the kind of confrontational actions they have taken
around the country during the past month. But there are differences,
too, and certainly, Ali Sistani, the Ayatollah here, has been a voice of
caution and calm and moderation; and al-Sadr's people have taken a
somewhat more tough or radical line towards the Americans. But, I think
there are differences, definitely, but I think there's also common

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Lumsbaine, can you tell us who you are, and the group
of you who are there? Where are you from?

PETER LUMSBAINE: Absolutely. Right. Let me just say there are five
people here on this delegation. Myself, and also Reverend Meg Lumsbaine
and Mario Galvan, Trish Shu and Brian Buckley. We are from California,
New York and Virginia, and we're representing our home communities and
also a number of organizations in the United States. For instance, Mario
is one of the National Board Members of Peace Action and a founding
member of the Zapatista Solidarity Coalition. Trish Shu has worked with
military families and piece organizations in the past, since Desert
Storm. I coordinate the Military Globalization Project, an Analysis and
Resistance Organizing project in California. Meg is actually an ordained
Lutheran pastor. We come from a variety of peace and human rights

AMY GOODMAN: From the Catholic Worker Community as well.

PETER LUMSBAINE: The Catholic Worker Community as well. Brian is from
the Catholic Worker Community in Virginia. So yes, we come from those
backgrounds. And we are in close touch with people in grassroots
organizations at a local, state-wide and national level in the United
States. And we see ourselves as informal but real representatives of the
people in the United States who are very concerned, increasing numbers
of people in the United States who are concerned about where the
situation is going in Iraq, and organizations which are opposed to the
U.S. military occupation here. I think many, many Iraqis have told us --
Iraqi men and women in Karbala and Najaf and other places-- Meg and I
were also here in October and we heard the same message-- that the
Iraqis were glad that Saddam was booted out, but that now that has
turned into an open ended and increasingly aggressive American military
occupation, which is more and more starting to resemble the very regime
that they claimed to replace. Also I think Iraqis have emphasized again
and again how Saddam himself was supported for years and years during
his worst phases of repression by the U.S. government. People, although
they are glad that Saddam was kicked out, they are skeptical of U.S.
intentions and very opposed to the increasingly harsh occupation here.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid for your own lives?

PETER LUMSBAINE: Well, I think there is an element of fear. The danger
here is undeniable. I think like I say, the Iraqi people that we have
talked to have been welcoming, and also we have been getting messages of
support from all over the world, Europe, Asia, Latin America and so
forth. There is an element of danger here, particularly if the U.S.
forces, military forces push forward towards Najaf. Then it could turn
into an extremely dangerous situation. So yes, we have been somewhat
concerned. We know there are risks, but we feel that unless people who
are working for peace and justice and peacemaking are willing to --
people who are called to peacemaking are willing to shoulder at least
some of the risks that soilders very often take for the sake of war,
that we cannot reverse that dynamic. We know there are dangers, but we
are willing to deal with that. We are calling on people throughout the
United States and the world to also join in these kinds of delegations
at this time. This is a time when we must not abolish the presence of
NGO's and peace and justice groups in Iraq. Here there are dangers but
people need to come here as witnesses and protect every accompaniment,
to stand with the Iraqi people even if there are dangers. We feel that
strongly and put out that call. There are actually a couple of contact
numbers, e-mails that people can get in touch with us if they are
interested in joining a second or third wave of the work we're trying to
do here.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the email addresses?

PETER LUMSBAINE: One of those e-mail addresses. What I would suggest is
either Mario Galvan. That's

AMY GOODMAN: And people can go to our website at
and we will have the contact
information. Peter Lumsbaine, I want to thank you for being with us. The
Najaf Emergency Peace Team is in Najaf right now. We thank you and be
safe. This is Democracy Now!. When we come back, we will talk to a
reporter just out of Fallujah. We'll talk about the latest report on
what Americans understand about weapons of mass destruction. We're going
to be speaking with journalist Mario Murrillo about Colombia and the
United States, War and Unrest and Destabilization and activist Ray
Rogers, why he was dragged out of a Coca-Cola's shareholders meeting.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the War and Peace report. I'm Amy
Goodman. Also at We were talking about Najaf. Now to
Fallujah. Rahul Mahajan has just come out of Fallujah, one of the few
westerners who has been there. The situation: eight Iraqi, one U.S.
Soldier killed in clashes in Fallujah. The marines called in air strikes
destroying a minaret, which they said insurgents had reportedly been
firing from. Can you talk about the situation in Fallujah?

RAHUL MAHAJAN: Well, obviously it's very tense. All of the signs point
to a renewed offensive. The US assaulted the city with pretty much
everything but the kitchen sink: 2,000 bombs from f-16's, ac-130's,
specter gun ships, super cobra helicopter tanks. They were not able to
take it in the first offensive. So they decided to try to win a military
victory by negotiation instead, by getting the rebels essentially to
disarm after which, presumably, the united states would go into the city
and round them all up and put -- throw them into the prison and throw
away the key as they have done with so many thousands of other Iraqis.
Obviously, that wasn't going to work. The rebels were not going to
disarm. It's just a matter of time. They're trying to get that military
victory by negotiation. They're talking about joint patrols with Iraqi
security forces which essentially means using Iraqi security forces as
human shields. It's a common practice when they do have joint patrols.
But that's just a way of seeing whether they can force a capitulation or
provoke another escalation and go in and finish off the job. It's likely
to be extremely bloody, if they do.

AMY GOODMAN: Just out of Fallujah, author of "Full Spectrum Dominance,"
and running the website
, Rahul Mahajan, I want to thank you for
being with us.

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