After witnessing the 20-year legacy of suffering in Iraq, a 13-member religious leader mission heads back to U.S. today burdened at the knowledge that the situation will only become worst. The group is certain that a war against Iraq would result in widespread suffering and death of innocent people; it will make U.S. rather less secure.
"Ours is a religious and not a political delegation," emphasized Dr. Bob Edgar at a closing news conference. "We came as humanitarian inspectors, not weapons inspectors." The group's four-day itinerary included visits to schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and humanitarian aid agencies.
Dr. Edgar is the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and also a United Methodist minister. He led the 13-member delegation of clergy and lay leaders from the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Episcopal Church and Unitarian Universalist Association along with an Iraq expert from Georgetown University.
The group arrived at Baghdad on midnight of Dec. 29 and will depart early this morning, and arrive at New York City in late afternoon.
"We came to meet with our counterparts in churches and mosques, visit with international aid and UN workers to learn more about the humanitarian situation in Iraq," Dr. Edgar said. "We came to see the faces of the Iraqi people so that the American people can see the faces of children laughing and singing and also hurting and suffering."
In Iraq, the group attended 4 houses of worship: Syrian Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic churches and a mosque. On New Years Eve they had Mass at a Catholic Church and ate potluck dinner at a Presbyterian church. In addition, the group visited two hospitals: the Red Crescent Society, UNICEF and a school; also they visited the holy sites and traditional Babylon. The members brought pictures drawn by American children and shared with the Iraqi children who also, in return, gave messages for the group to bring back to U.S.
"UNICEF officials shared heartbreaking statistics of malnutrition, disease, and hunger with us. We are concerned by the increasing reliance of Iraqi people on the food basket provided through the 'oil for food' program, a program not intended to be the primary source of nutrition or a balanced diet," said Dr. Edgar.
The group also met Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and asked questions about human rights, the opportunities of dissent and criticism of the government, and the choices the government had made with its available resources.
Upon returning, Dr. Edgar said that the delegation will push the U.S. government for changes in the Soil for food' program to meet the needs of humanitarian, educational, and medical needs of the Iraqi people. In addition, the group believes that war is not inevitable and can be averted; President Bush had stated on New Year's Eve: he desires to reach a peaceful conclusion.
By Tony C.