Kathy Kelly's Mission of Mercy

After the Iraq invasion, the work goes on for the co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness

| October 2003


Kathy Kelly has been to Iraq 21 times since 1991, and contrary to the optimistic future painted by Bush administration spin doctors, the co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness (VITW) says life in the beseiged country shows little signs of improvement.

Imagine, she says, living in an American city that had endured a massive bombing campaign followed by 13 years of debilitating economic sanctions and a second, five-week bombing campaign. Then imagine disbanding the army, National Guard, and police -- any kind of civil authority - and emptying all the jails. Combine this with easy and cheap access to explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, and guns. Finally, cut off the electricity and deliver water that is often contaminated. 'Can you imagine that [your city] might not feel like the most safe place in which to live?'

For these and other indignities, the United States government should issue 'a profound and remorseful apology for the suffering caused' in Iraq, she says.

Kelly recently returned from a 17-day visit to Baghdad, and says things have not quieted down much since the invasion. 'There were gunshots, exchanges of rifle fire, and explosions going on periodically through the nights,' she says. Plus, there were other security issues. She and the five other members of the group, had most everything they brought with them stolen: money, two computers, a digital camera, a video camera, a palm pilot. 'Finally, we said, at least there's nothing left to steal.'



Kelly, however, is not one to worry much about material possessions. The 50-year-old Chicago native does not have a bank account, a car, or a driver's license. So when she's touring the 'church basement and university circuit' -- as a self-described 'itinerant migrant educator' -- local activists put her up for the night and help her get around. 'After I give a talk we'll pass the hat, and I'll go home with enough money to keep bankrolling the campaign for a while,' she says.

Between October, 2002 and April, 2003, Kelly and the Iraq Peace Team maintained a presence of pacifist resistance in Baghdad throughout U.S. bombing, invasion, and occupation. As you might expect, she is not impressed with the way the United States is handling the occupation. 'Going in without a plan unleashed a chaotic and humiliating destruction within Iraq that has cost lives and the potential for what might have been a mutually beneficial cooperation between the Iraqi people and American people,' she says. The better alternative, she argues, would have been to lift the economic sanctions and help build schools, social services, and communication capacity so the Iraqis themselves could have had the strength to overthrow Saddam, a scenario that played out in Iran and Romania.