Bound for Iraq with a seven-person peace delegation, 21-year-old Khury Petersen-Smith was waiting for a connector flight in Amsterdam. He spied a half dozen Americans in the airport, all headed for Iraq, and all wearing the "KBR" logo.
He knew that stands for Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, a friend of people in high places. "I got a sense of what the US invasion of Iraq is looking like," says the RIT multidisciplinary studies major. "It's so much bigger than I thought."
Once on Iraqi soil, Petersen-Smith asked ordinary Iraqis about their lives. He recalls talking to a man named Tareq. "He was hopeful about the invasion. He said they were really tired [of the old regime]. Instead, it's been very frustrating. He lost a brother in the invasion."
Petersen-Smith marveled at the long gas lines. "This is a place where they're sitting on so much oil." He saw deeper ironies: "We passed Abu Greib prison. It was notorious under Saddam. Now it's the main US prison."
"I was blown away by the level of destruction. Most of it is the damage from the sanctions. Things are falling apart. There's sewage in the streets... Wherever I went, I saw no reconstruction, nothing."
He met a Baghdad family whose home was raided by US soldiers. The soldiers, he says, reportedly shot and wounded Ahmed Kalif Salman, a 46-year-old with five children who was suspected of belonging to the resistance.
"They kicked down the door and shot him in the chest immediately," says Petersen-Smith, quoting the family. "They went through the house, they stole money and jewelry, destroyed furniture." The family searched through various detention centers for Salman, to no avail. His body turned up later at a hospital, family members said.
"We hooked up with one doctor at the Khadamiya Hospital," says Petersen-Smith. "He said they went to the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority], but nothing was done." How does the Iraqi public view the CPA? "The sense is, they're useless, they're a joke."
"I spoke to a group of MPs [military police] at a US military base. They were from a Missouri National Guard unit. The sense was that they're just really tired and ready to go home, counting the days."
He tells of another American peacemaker on the trip, a veteran named Stan Goff, who challenged some American soldiers with a flyer that advised, "Hold Onto Your Humanity." Goff was himself challenged --- by a commissioned officer. The officer corralled the peacemakers behind a shed, says Petersen-Smith. "It was a little scary, as you can imagine."
"'The occupation will end but the troops will stay,' that's the kind of doublespeak that tells how it is," says Petersen-Smith.
"What really matters is what happens on the ground in Iraq. Some Iraqis give the US the benefit of the doubt... But the occupation is being carried out with such contempt. Our driver said, 'Give it another four or five months and it will explode'... Bush may have plans for the election, but the best-laid plans can unravel."
For local information and links, visit www.ritantiwar.org. And check out www.occupationwatch.org for international background and delegation links.