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Ex-Hostage: Government Failing to Put NZers and Iraqis First

Ex-Hostage: Government Failing to Put NZers and Iraqis First


AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – Harmeet Singh Sooden is travelling to Iraq in the coming weeks to work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) on a short-term assignment.

Mr Sooden is deeply concerned about the Government’s decision to deploy the NZDF to Iraq. He believes the Government has not provided NZers with an adequate justification for an NZDF presence in Iraq: “When I’ve made requests for official information that might corroborate the Government’s rationale for the deployment, they have refused, mainly on the grounds of protecting national security.”

Mr Sooden says, “NZers need to be told why the Government is not pursuing alternatives like pushing for a UN Security Council resolution to declare ISIS a ‘threat to peace and security’.”

Mr Sooden says many other questions remain unanswered in detail: “What impact is the deployment likely to have on the security of NZers here and abroad, for example aid workers? What military support role are NZ intelligence services playing in the ISIS conflict? What is the human rights record of the army units we will be training? Will journalists be permitted to observe the NZDF’s activities in Iraq?”

Mr Sooden believes NZ should withdraw entirely from the US-led coalition. He says, “US policies over the past few decades have had a devastating impact on Iraqi society. ISIS itself has its immediate origins in the conditions created in large part by the US and its allies, beginning with the illegal 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.” Amnesty International has recently accused the Iraqi Government and government-backed militias of committing war crimes. According to the organisation Iraq Body Count (IBC), “[t]he rise of [ISIS] as a major force in the conflict, as well as the military responses by the Iraqi Government and the re-entry of US and Coalition air forces into the conflict, have all contributed to the elevated death tolls”.

Mr Sooden says, “NZ should place the welfare of the Iraqi people as a whole ahead of its own economic and geo-political interests, and not take part in a military campaign that is increasing the level of violence in the region.”

“A law-abiding state, in particular a UN Security Council member, would first ask the UN Security Council to declare ISIS a ‘threat to international peace and security’ and mandate the appropriate measures,” says Mr Sooden, “and in the meantime pursue UN-mandated avenues such as blocking support for ISIS’s war-fighting capabilities, increasing humanitarian aid, and engaging in good faith diplomacy to resolve the conflict.”

Mr Sooden will join a CPT project that is supporting local bodies managing the humanitarian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, arising from the large influx of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons fleeing the current fighting. In practical terms, he will be involved in documenting the human rights situation, needs assessment and building relationships between communities and NGOs.

In 2005, while participating in an international CPT delegation, Mr Sooden and three colleagues were kidnapped in Baghdad and held for almost four months. Mr Sooden says the rise of ISIS reminds him of his own ordeal: “Seeing the hostages in orange jumpsuits brings back memories of Tom.” Tom Fox, one of the three held with Mr Sooden, was executed on 9 March 2006. Mr Sooden and the remaining hostages, Canadian James Loney and Briton Norman Kember, were freed two weeks later. According to the US Government, indications are that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the direct forerunner of ISIS, was responsible for the CPT kidnapping.

ENDS

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