Eyewitness to War:
Its Buildup and Its Aftermath in Iraq

Cynthia Banas

From October 28, 2002 until April 26, 2003, I lived in Iraq as a member of the Iraq Peace Team (IPT), a project sponsored by Voices in the Wilderness (VITW). Without the loving support of friends and family, I would not have been able to represent us as a member of the IPT. Since I can’t possibly recall each beautiful person’s name, I’ll start with a collective heartfelt appreciation to everyone for prayers, thoughts, good energy, notes, donations, concern; for peacework at vigils, civil disobedience actions, meetings and/or attempted meetings with Congress-people; long, tiring journeys to DC and NYC in cold weather; etc.
Thanks to Paul Frazier, my support team coordinator, for his dedicated energy, long hours spent at the computer sending out our reports from Iraq to a vast network of print and electronic media sources and all the other work involved in coordinating support. To those who assisted Paul in his work and to all who received communications and then sent them on to others in their networks, a simple thank you can’t suffice.
I give many thanks to my sister Rosa, her husband Lyle Schram, my brother John Banas and his wife Charlotte for psychological support and for the practical work checking the house, paying bills, and shoveling and plowing the snow.

Reflection #1: Strong support teams are essential to the work of Peace Teams.
Founded in 1996 by Kathy Kelly and others in Chicago, VITW called for the lifting of the pitiless sanctions that the United Nations (UN) imposed on Iraq in 1990 at the behest of the United States. When war mongering began to escalate in June 2002 with Bush’s speech at the Naval Academy, VITW realized the need to focus on preventing the war. Thus was born the IPT. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT or CPT’ers), rooted in the Church of the Brethren and Mennonite traditions, also supported the IPT. Our goal was to live among the ordinary Iraqi people, who are not our enemy, and send back reports to our support teams about the reality of what was happening in Iraq, so that people in the US could have an alternative viewpoint from that of their government.
About 200 people were active in the IPT. Ramzi Kysia was in Iraq for several months making connections and doing the necessary advance work. The first group of team members arrived in Iraq in July 2002, and the last group left in late April 2003. Although the IPT was officially disbanded in April, both the CPT and VITW continue to have a presence in Iraq.
Some IPT members stayed for several months, while others stayed for as little as 10 days. Some left for awhile and then returned. We did much to show that a pre-emptive war against Iraq would be illegal, immoral, and unbelievably cruel; but the US propaganda machine was so powerful that the American people believed the lies, and our country made an attack on Iraq that will go down in history as an infamy.
The US government’s analysis was accepted and shown uncritically by the vast majority of commercial networks and press in the US. With very few exceptions, the American media acted as cheerleaders for our government, as exemplified by Dan Rather’s statement, “I will stand behind any line my President tells me to stand behind,” and the nationalistic logos displayed by the networks and the papers. International coverage was far more balanced in covering opposition to the invasion. While the American media’s limited coverage of peace efforts in Iraq focused on the controversial human shields, foreign media and independent journalists covered the IPT and other international peace delegations more extensively.

Reflection #2: We needed to be well read, well informed and well organized.
We read daily reports and articles from a wide array of American, British, Canadian, and Australian sources. Analyses of news reports and of the speeches of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell helped us to periodically develop talking points to use in articles and interviews.
The Office of Strategic Information at the Pentagon appears to be functioning 24 hours a day despite the government’s announcement of its closure and despite Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s assurance that the US government would not lie to its people. Here are a few of the lies used to convince the American people that war was necessary:

Lie #1: Saddam Hussein kicked out the UN Inspectors in 1998.

Fact: The Inspectors were withdrawn by the US in 1998 in preparation for the bombing of Iraq during Operation Desert Fox. The United States didn’t even bother to inform the UN, so other UN personnel came under risk of being bombed.

Lie #2: Bush told us that we must attack Iraq because it had a nuclear bomb, had long range cruise missiles that could be set off in 45 minutes, and Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 tragedy. Powell showed us so-called proof on TV about the weapons Iraq had ready to attack us.

Fact: There is still no evidence supporting these claims.

Lie #3: Rumsfeld told us that a couple of hundred thousand soldiers could successfully conquer Iraq.

Fact: General Shinskei, the Army Chief of Staff at the time, said that several hundred thousand troops would be needed. If not a lie, why did Rumsfeld decide not to take the advice of the professional soldiers? Today, General Shinskei is retired and has reiterated that two more divisions had been needed in order to attack Iraq successfully. According to the Geneva Accords, the occupying nation is responsible for maintaining law and order and social services in the occupied country. It is obvious that this was not possible with the number of soldiers sent to war.

Lie #4: Our government destroyed Baghdad in order to save it.

Lie #5: Our government liberated the Iraqi people.

Fact: Our government destroyed Iraq so that the US could get control of Iraq’s oil. The word “liberate” was the code word used in all government news reports at first. Now the word used is “occupied.”
When the UN lifted the sanctions, it was with the proviso that the US could occupy Iraq for up to two years. During this time the US cabal will make billions of dollars “rebuilding” Iraq’s oil industry. They are accomplishing this by awarding no-bid contracts to Kellogg, Brown, & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, of which Cheney is the former CEO; Bechtel, with whom Casper Weinberger and George Schulz are associated, and the infamous Carlyle Group. The tremendous cost of this will be charged to Iraq, which will be forced to borrow at obscene interest rates from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank bankers. In order to repay reconstruction loans, Iraq will be forced to implement Structural Adjustment Programs 1 that will erode social services and cause the Iraqi people to become economic slaves to the Great American Empire. To steal a nation’s resources and call it liberation is an obscene lie.

Reflection #3: We have much work to do.
We must expose the lies upon which this unnecessary, cruel war was waged. We must be accountable for the death, destruction, pain and loss to untold numbers of people, to uncounted maimed and wounded, to families lost and disrupted for whom the war will never end, and for the untold numbers of people yet to be maimed or killed by unexploded ordnance and land mines.
As Howard Zinn said, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of what we have done.”

Reflection #4: We are truly only one family on earth.
During my life’s journey, I have been able to travel to many different countries. I have always found that most people whom I have met have been kind, generous and helpful to me. The people in Iraq have a wonderful culture. They are among the most welcoming and generous people I have ever met, and I look forward to the time when I can return.

Reflection #5: There is a great movement for peace in the world today.
There were many peacemakers from different countries in Baghdad to say no to the war. From Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Canada, the Philippines, Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, Turkey, Japan, China, Mexico, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Thailand, and Indonesia, they came to say no to war. Around the world, 15 million marched on February 15 to say no to war. If the media had truly been professional and reported this side of the story, war may very well have been avoided and the disputes settled by negotiation.

Reflection #6: Kathy Kelly, Ramzi Kysia and all the members of the IPT are people who believe in nonviolence. It was a wonderful experience to work and live with them.
It was great to see so many familiar faces on the IPT and to meet so many enthusiastic people who were new to me. I’ll always be grateful for their great courage and for the kindly words and gestures of reassurance. And of course, it was great to have Ed Kinane arrive with his aura of calmness and wisdom (see Ed’s article in the June 2003 issue of the PNL).

Shukran jazeelan!! 2

Peace, Shalom, Salaam

1 Many countries forced to implement Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP’s) to repay IMF/WB loans have suffered enormous cuts to social programs and privatization of public services.

2 “Thank you very much” (Arabic).

Cynthia is a retired librarian living in Vernon, NY. She is available to share her story with groups and plans to return to Iraq in late September, returning mid-November. Contact Cynthia at 315-829-2543 or cynthiabanas@yahoo.com. For information about Voices in the Wilderness, www.vitw.org or 773-784-8065.