He’s back. After a two-week, fact-finding tour of Iraq, community organizer Elce Redmond returned to Chicago’s Austin community on Friday, Sept. 30. Redmond traveled to Iraq as part of a six-member team sponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Redmond is no stranger to world travel having visited such places as Belfast (Ireland) and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Elce Redmond is a member of the South Austin Coalition (SACCC). During their regular monthly meeting, Redmond gave his personal account of this very important and often scary trip.

Redmond’s Summary:

In my two weeks there, not only was I in Baghdad, I also went to Karbala, Najaf, Mosul and they wouldn’t let me into Basra because it’s real bad there. I met with several organizations that are in Baghdad and several community people just like here at South Austin Coalition (SACCC). And we had meetings just like we do and we talk about issues; not the same issues but issues themselves.

The only difference in those meetings and SACCC meetings is everybody had a gun. All the meetings I went to, everybody had a gun. And SACCC as an organization, if we were in Baghdad we’d have our own security team. And not only would the security team have guns, but every other member of the organization would have a gun.

One of the things that struck me about the meetings they have a great deal of respect for black people in Iraq, they understand the history and struggle of black people. They talked a lot about Hurricane Katrina, but also they know who Dr. Martin Luther King is. But the person they have a greater respect for is W.E.B. DuBois and the writings of DuBois. They even told me about reading in Austin Weekly News (online) upon my impending visit.

So it was important for the group that a black American who wasn’t a part of the military was there. Because all of the Imams were very receptive in meeting me and they wanted to let me know they knew the struggles of black people.

Life in a foreign land

The country is absolutely horrible. It’s not just horrible for Westerners, it’s horrible for the ordinary people who live there. Now, everything that you guys have read about what’s happening in Iraq is a tiny bit true. The crisis is a lot larger and a lot worst than people may think. In terms of the violence you always hear about the insurgents and every news bulletin talks about the insurgents. The insurgents are a small piece of the larger problem that exists within Iraq.

There are four different groups that are doing the violence in Iraq. The first are the ‘Naturalists.’ These were the old Saddaam (Hussein) guys. They’re the ones going after U.S. forces and putting out the explosive devices. The next group, they don’t call them insurgents. They call them foreign terrorists. Mostly these guys are from the United Arab Emirates. It’s a country within the gulf region, a country called Nia. They’re coming from the United Arab Emirates, Syria and they are Jordanian.

Abu El Zahrawi has no support within Iraq itself. So it would be like a SACCC member coming into a situation even though he has no support from the people, but bringing in his followers to disrupt the situation. The guys who are blowing themselves up at the markets, at the schools, at the Iraqi checkpoints are Emertis?”United Arab Emertis and they are indiscriminately killing everyone. So no one supports those guys.

They have no support whatsoever, but these guys are vicious, murderous people. They are killing children, blowing up schools, going after churches?”their goal is to create instability.

The third group are criminals?”guys who have been in jail for murder, sexual assault?”and when the war broke out, they all got out. They are the ones doing all the kidnapping. All the kidnapping you hear about; those guys are doing it. They’re kidnapping Iraqis, they’re kidnapping Westerners, and what they are trying to do is hold people for ransom. One of the people I was working with, his brother got kidnapped and they paid $13,000 of American money to the kidnappers to get him out. They kidnapped him again and they had to pay $22,000 of American money to get him out.

The fourth group is what they call “The Black Force.” The Black Forces are Jihadist. The country is broken up into several groups?”Shiites, they are the major population. The Sunnis are roughly about 25 percent of the population. Turkish is about 10 percent. And the Kurds are the rest of the population.

So now, the “Black Force” wants instability, so they’re killing the Shiites and blaming it on the Sunnis. They’re killing the Sunnis and blaming it on the Shiites. They’re killing the Kurds and blaming it on the Turks and killing the Turks and blaming it on the Kurds. Those are the four forces that are fighting, so nobody knows who is who. So that is why everyone carries a gun and that is why everyone is on alert.

Iraqi freedom or Iranian control

One of the big problems is, and what our government is doing [is] they are giving the control of Iraq over to Iran. The Shiites, who are 60 percent of the population, share the same religion as the Iranians?”Iran influence in Iraq is incredible.

When the invasion happened two years ago, Iraq was a secular country, so the women dressed as the women here dress. Now its totally different, all of the women wear a Chador, this long black outfit, and some have the veil over their face. And if you do not wear that you are considered blasphemous against Islam, and you could be killed.

All the women right now are wearing that because they are concerned about their safety. And more and more of Iran’s influence is very strong within the country. And one thing I learned about the Iranians is that they are light-skinned so that is how people could tell who is Iranian or not.

There were blond (haired) people around in Najaf, which is like their holiest city of the Shiites. It’s like Rome is to the Catholics. There is a strong Christian population within Iraq itself. They are about 3 percent of the population. They are Catholic and some of the protestant faith, but they are all going to be gone. Because under the new constitution in Iraq, Islam is the official religion of the state, which means there is no other religion but Islam.

We met with the Archbishop of Iraq and this guy is going to be back in Italy real soon, because the writing is on the wall. If you’re not Muslim you have got to get the heck out.

Read the rest of Elce Redmond’s account in the Oct. 20 Austin Weekly News.