“People far from the fire don’t feel the heat”: An Update from Iraqi Kurdistan

Written on June 22, 2016, by

As we continue to fund hygiene kits for Iraqi IDPs in the Iraqi Kurdistan region we think it is critical to understand the situation in the area. In May, we funded $2,500 worth of hygiene kits that were distributed by the Critical Needs Support Foundation. As people “far from the fire” our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are those “close to the heat”.

Below is a letter written by Cathy Breen who is currently part of a peacemaking team in Iraqi Kurdistan. Cathy is a N.Y City Catholic worker who first went to Iraq in 2002 as part of the Iraq Peace Team, a sub-project of the Voices in the Wilderness.

April 25, 2016

Dear Friends,

It is hard to put my feelings into words. Just the other day we visited a sheikh whom I had met in Fallujah in 2012. He and his family were forced to flee to Kurdistan about two years ago. Fallujah, as you probably know, is being held by ISIS. None of its residents are allowed to leave. People are literally dying of starvation.

We met in the rented apartment of another sheikh who also fled Fallujah with his family. Although he himself is sick with cancer, both he and our sheikh friend welcomed us warmly. The afternoon was balmy and pleasant, the room was airy and light, with cushions on the floor, a couple of plastic chairs and a bed which also served as a sofa. Water was fetched immediately and we were graciously served sweets and tea. In the course of our visit we were joined by yet another sheikh from Ramadi. The U.N. recently reported that the destruction in Ramadi, also in the Anbar region, was the worst they had witnessed in all of Iraq.

Outwardly everything seemed so normal that at first I forgot I was with people now counted among the hundreds of thousands who are internally displaced in Iraq. In the next couple of hours, though, we would hear many tragic stories that would dispel any thought of normalcy.

“We have lost everything,” our sheikh friend said. “We are like babies just being born. We lost schools, universities, houses, bridges, hospitals, markets. All gone. People in the U.S. need to know what their government did to the Iraqi people. All this pain, destruction and hurt.”

Our host told of a woman who had no breast milk to feed her baby as she herself was starving. However, she had a goat and, for a while, she was able to give this milk to her baby son. Then the goat died. At this point in the story, the Iraqi woman translating for me was unable to continue. Overcome by sorrow, she began crying and left the room to collect herself. I learned later that this mother searched desperately for someone to give her baby to in order to save his life.

After a lengthy open discussion, we were invited to join the sheikh’s wife, watching children with other women of the family in a second room. Again a very warm welcome belied an all-too-grim reality. This dear woman’s mother, sister and daughter are all currently trapped in Fallujah, and with ten children in their collective care. On occasion she is able to reach them by phone. The women in Fallujah weep to her across the line. They are reduced to eating grass.

“We can do nothing to save them!”¯ the sheikh’s wife said. “The government doesn’t help! We don’t know how this is possible!” It was incomprehensible to me -I find myself simply unable to imagine this family’s pain. “We have a saying,” she said. “People far away from the fire, don’t get burned. They don’t feel the heat.”¯ Across that phone line, and waiting for the next call, she feels it.

As we stood to take our leave, we embraced and kissed one another. One by one, I took the sweet faces into my hands. They thanked us for the visit. Photos were taken to remember each other by, and I recorded all of the names of their loved ones in Fallujah so they will not be forgotten. I would write these names here, and include the photo for those who read this, but I am fearful to do so. Their situation is already so precarious.

It was early the next day-that is, yesterday morning-that my driver and I left for Dahuk, about three hours northwest of Erbil. The road to Dahuk is dotted with many Yezidi, Christian and Kurdish villages. My driver and his family are themselves internally displaced from one of the villages surrounding Mosel, and our trip would take us close to his village. Actually we entertained the thought of visiting there, but the fear of random explosions and directed ISIS attacks caused us to decide against this visit.

The family that was to host me in Dahuk are Christians from the same village as my driver. They lost a house to ISIS in Mosul in 2008 when they fled after priests were murdered in their church. They had lived there for twenty years. They fled to a village called Teleskuf where they would live for another 6 years until ISIS took this village as well. Now it is a ghost town with only the Peshmerga there.

We passed the area of the Mosul dam and later with my host family we looked together at a map marking the whereabouts of ISIS. “We all know where ISIS (Da’ash) is”, they told me. And lines were drawn on the map to show me their current locations. They were only kilometers away.

In Dahuk we visited with some Yazidis in an unfinished building where they are living. After a word of welcome we were given water, juice and sweets in a ceremonious manner, so typical of the graciousness in the Middle East. An elderly gentleman shared the terrible story of one of his granddaughters, who had been away from the area at the time of the horrific massacre in August of 2014 and the siege of Sinjar mountain. When she returned and learned of the brutality her people had suffered, she found it unbearable and took her life. How does one respond to such pain?

Seated on the mat next to this sorrowing grandfather was a young Yazidi man who is studying in the university. Together with other young Yazidis they plan to reach out to about 5,000 children on the mountain with the hope of educating them. I shared the story of my friends, the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul, and the fruits they are reaping from their literacy program with street children.

Also in Dahuk we were able to visit with several internally displaced families living side by side in a church hall. Excited little children led me to the curtains which act as their front doors.



And then they drew back the curtains to reveal their living quarters.


The families behind the curtains like these, in camps or in unfinished buildings and compounds, have for the time a desperately welcomed measure of security. But they have lost everything they owned. The family I stayed with had fled here with only the clothes on their backs. Fourteen people in a car!

Because they are in Kurdistan which is officially still part of Iraq, they have no refugee status and are not eligible for resettlement. They are what is called IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). They would have to go to Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan and register there as refugees. They would find themselves, however, at the bottom of the pile. And they have no money with which to sustain themselves.

The husband and father of my host family has a mother and several sisters in the United States. His wife has family in Canada, Germany and the U.S. They must feel the heat from here as few others in a comfortable West, author of so much of this region’s suffering, ever can. “What can we do?” my hosts ask. “We want a future for our children.”

It is hard to put my feelings into words. “People far from the fire don’t feel the heat.” Here in Kurdistan I am closer to the fire as I watch good people getting burnt.

Warmest greetings,

Cathy Breen

325 Hygiene Kits for Iraqi IDPs

Written on May 2, 2016, by

Hygiene kits and dignity for Iraqi IDPs


We have appreciated and been humbled by your commitment over the years to insure clean water in Najaf schools. We are shifting our Water for Peace financial support toward what seems to be more urgent needs.

IARP will partner with the Critical Needs Support Foundation (CNSF) to provide 325 hygiene packages to vulnerable Iraqi families, widows, and orphans living in IDP camps. We are challenging ourselves to fund the kits by May 15. Please join us as we kick off this new urgent project!

CNSF: CNSF is a small Iraqi non-governmental organization. CNSF provides critical support and delivers hope to people most in need, without bias. Projects include delivering food and water supplies to various IDP camps, maintaining a safe house for women previously captured by ISIS, running the New Life Project which teaches men and women new skills so they are able to search for employment or start their own small businesses. Learn more here.

Hygiene project: The protracted humanitarian crisis in Iraq is causing displaced families and individuals to face increased hardship and debt as they struggle to afford essential items to survive. Food is often prioritized over basic hygiene items. Without support, this negatively impacts public health and the dignity of displaced peoples. CNSF aims to provide hygiene kits and education to 325 vulnerable displaced families and individuals, including widows and orphans.

With your support, IARP will provide funding for 325 hygiene kits to vulnerable displaced families and individuals, including widows and orphans in Zakho, Sheihan, and Baadra.

Each hygiene kit costs $17 and contains the following:


-Nail scissors
-Feminine hygiene products
-Small towel
-3 toothbrushes
-Wet wipes
-Cotton swabs
-Hand sanitizer
-First-aid kit
-Laundry and dishwashing powder
-Large box for storage
-Possibly diapers

Would you consider partnering with us and fund a hygiene kit for only $17?


Basic education on how to use the items in the hygiene kit can help reduce the chance of infectious diseases being spread in camps, especially diseases of the skin and those specific to women. This simple, but important course will include:

-Explanation of the importance of hygiene and its advantages, including a small notebook containing pictures
-Dental hygiene information
-Wound treatment
-Feminine hygiene

We are challenging ourselves to fund the kits by May 15. Please join us as we kick off this new urgent project!

Donate here.

Please note that we are partnering with CNSF to fund this hygiene project. No donations will fund any other CNSF programs.

Water for Peace Art Auction at Medtronic Child Care Center, Minnesota

Written on June 13, 2013, by

Week of: June 3 2013

“Only 30 percent of children nationwide have access to safe drinking water in Iraq.”
~UN Children’s Fund

At the Medtronic Child Care Center in Minnesota, the Preschool 1&2 and the Transition classrooms wanted to make a difference…


Water for Peace Action at 3 Schools in Iraq

Written on April 26, 2013, by

The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) and our partner in Iraq, the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), are proud to announce that the 727 students of Al Adnaniyah Elementary School, 575 students of Demashaq Middle School, and 925 students of Imam Hussein High School in Najaf, Iraq now have access to clean water through our Water for Peace program. MPT recently installed large (200 gallon per day) water sanitation systems at each of the schools. Thank you to the donor St. Joan of Arch Church!


Water for Peace Action at Jawad Ali Tahir School in Najaf, Iraq

Written on April 12, 2013, by

The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) and our partner in Iraq, the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), are proud to announce that the 650 students of Jawad Ali Tahir School in Najaf, Iraq now have access to clean water through our Water for Peace program. MPT recently installed large (200 gallon per day) water sanitation system at the school. Thank you to donors St. Augustine Church and Jane Nicholl!


Water for Peace Action at Schools and Medical Clinic in Najaf, Iraq

Written on April 10, 2013, by

The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) and our partner in Iraq, the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), are proud to announce that the 651 students of Al Amani Middle School, the 729 students of Al Nidhal (The Struggle) Elementary School, and the 599 patients per day at the “For You” Medical Clinic in Najaf, Iraq now have access to clean water. Through our Water for Peace program, we recently installed large (200 gallon per day) water sanitation systems at all three locations.


An Eclectic Mix: Schools, Commerce, Cemeteries, and Ice Cream – Day 4 in Iraq

Written on November 13, 2012, by

By Steve Clemens, IARP Board Member

Clemens is currently in Iraq with a delegation from Minneapolis. IARP Executive Director Kathy McKay, Board Member David Smith, and four others are also with the delegation.

Our schedule was shifted for today when we noticed our school visits were on the itinerary for Friday when schools are closed for the weekly religious day. So off we traveled to three different schools. The elementary school principal met us but had to check with the local Ministry of Education before giving us access to the classrooms. Since the class we visited was 6 year-old girls, Joan Haan brought out the pictures and notes written by children from St. Paul’s Pilgrim Lutheran Church.


Water for Peace Action at Al-Faraqid School for Girls and Al-Asifa Elementary School

Written on November 5, 2012, by

The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) and our partner in Iraq, the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), are proud to announce that the 520 students of Al Asifa Elementary School in Najaf, Iraq and the 345 students of Al Faraqid School for Girls in Najaf now have access to clean water. Through our Water for Peace program, MPT recently installed water sanitation systems at both schools.

Thank you to the following donors for bringing clean water to these schools: Karima Bushnell, John Bushnell, Nureddin Bushnell, Elizabeth Bushnell, Light Upon Light Sufi Center – Nur Ashki Jerrahi Ruhaniat International, Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer, and the University of Minnesota School of Nursing – Global Health and Transcultural Group.

Below are some photos from the schools:


St. Thomas helps bring clean drinking water to students in Iraq

Written on February 5, 2011, by

A recent article in the St. Thomas Bulletin describes a Water for Peace project by Students for Justice and Peace at the University of St. Thomas. In collaboration with other student groups and departments, Students for Justice and Peace raised more than $1,400 last spring to pay for a water-filtration system that is now used by the 300 students at the Imam Redha Elementary School for Girls in Najaf, Iraq.

To read the article, click here.

Water for Peace is a program of the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project and our partner the Muslim Peacemaker Teams. It is a service-learning project that connects Iraqis and Americans in partnership to bring clean water to schools in Iraq.

What is the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project?

Written on November 10, 2010, by

What is the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project?

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