Iraqi Churches Prepare to Help

Nov 16, 2002 03:00 AM EST

"Nobody knows what will happen in the case of war", says Father Younan Jacob of the Greek Orthodox Church in Baghdad. He is expressing a sentiment voiced by many people, in spite of the fact that Iraq has now, 'without conditions' accepted the UN Security Council resolution that will allow weapons inspectors to return to Iraq within days.

For the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Mosul, His Grace Gregorius Saleba, memories of the last war in 1991 are painful. "Many days we had no food to eat. There was no-one to support us."

And given the 'talk of war' and rhetoric of the last few months, many people in Iraq are still anxious and concerned ?the question that everyone seems to be asking is whether there will be a peaceful end to this crisis. The Middle East Council of Churches, a member of the global humanitarian alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, is preparing for the worst, working closely with local churches.

Reverend Haitham A. Al Jazrawi of the Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Kirkuk believes that churches could in the case of an emergency provide shelter and support to Christians and Muslims with the help of volunteers. "We have quite a big generator, which could be very helpful for the people", says Rev. Al Jazrawi.

"We will also need tents and quilts", says Father Gregorius Benjamin Talia, a priest of the Ancient Church of the East in Mosul, "as it gets very cold in the north of Iraq in January and February".

While walking through the market and talking to people in general, many are quick to point out that although there is enough to buy in the shops and markets, most Iraqis can only afford the most basic items. Many families have been reduced to living on a diet of tea, bread and vegetables, because there is no money for meat, explains Edward, a 41-year old man from Mosul. The father of two small children has been without job for nearly a year now and the threat of war again has only compounded the tension and pressure many people feel.

"We are nervous and tired of all of this", and older women quips as another woman explains that she desperately needs help for her family. She and her husband, along with their two children live in one room. Her husband works in a restaurant she says, explaining that from his salary of 60,000 Iraqi Dinar (30 US dollar) they have to pay 25,000 Iraqi Dinar alone in rent.

With 12 years of sanctions having taking its toll, with an economy that is limping along, prospects in general seem bleak for the average Iraqi today ?the threat of war, still not over, now only serves to awaken memories of the previous war. News reports also state that the sentiment in some Iraqi circles is that the tension between Iraq and the US has not been defused, despite Baghdad's acceptance of the new UN resolution on weapons inspections. And with tensions still lingering and with memories of the last war still painful, religious communities all over Iraq are praying for peace.

By Rainer Lang