Peacemaking Christian Ex-Hostage Returns to Iraq

A Christian peace worker has returned to Iraq for the first time since he was freed from captivity four years ago.

Harmeet Singh Sooden, 36, is part of a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation that has been traveling through Iraqi Kurdistan for the last two weeks meeting representatives of human rights groups, NGOs, displaced people and government officials.

Sooden, who is traveling on his Canadian passport, said he wants the reports from his visit to encourage the public to influence their governments' policies.

"My role is simply to report the genuine views of the people in Iraq," he said.

In 2005, Sooden was taken hostage by Islamic militants in Baghdad along with fellow CPT members Norman Kember from Britain, Jim Loney from Canada and Tom Fox from the United States. Fox was murdered just weeks before British forces freed the remaining three members on March 23, 2006.

CPT has been working in Iraq since 2002 and since 2006, the Kurdish north, where it is documenting the human rights situation following the influx of thousands of displaced people from southern and central Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The ecumenical ministry warns that recent attacks by Turkey on border villages have displaced thousands more.

In a report, Sooden said "The Kurds are asking for help to stop foreign countries from interfering in their affairs and the people of occupied Iraq are telling us that the coalition forces must withdraw; their presence is increasing the level of violence."

Prior to his visit, Sooden asked that no ransom or armed intervention be used to secure his release if he were abducted again. He is due to leave Iraq on Monday.