Why I Went to Baghdad

The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches explains why war with Iraq is 'immoral and illegal.'

Dr. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist minister, led a 13-member religious leaders' mission to Iraq during the first week of January. The group included other 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's four-day itinerary included visits to schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and humanitarian aid agencies. Following is Edgar's official statement from Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 2, 2003--We are a delegation of 13 religious leaders and experts visiting Iraq under the auspices of the National Council of Churches (U.S.A.) Ours is a religious and not a political delegation. 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. We brought with usdozens of pictures drawn by American children. We shared these pictureswith Iraqi children who, in turn, gave us messages to take back to childrenin the United States.

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We are called by God to be peacemakers. War is not inevitable and can beaverted, even at this moment. President Bush reiterated, on New Year's Eve,his desire to reach a peaceful conclusion to this crisis and we are gratefulfor his words.

We came as humanitarian inspectors, not weapons inspectors. We visitedschools and hospitals and saw for ourselves the devastating impact of 12years of sanctions on the people of Iraq. We touched babies sufferingillnesses that can be prevented by proper medication currently unavailableto the people of Iraq. We held the cold hands of children in unheatedschools with broken windows and underpaid teachers, nurses, and doctors.

UNICEF officials shared heartbreaking statistics of malnutrition, disease,and hunger with us. We are concerned by the increasing reliance of Iraqipeople on the food basket provided through the `oil for food' program, aprogram not intended to be the primary source of nutrition or a balanceddiet. We intend to advocate to our government for changes in the `oil forfood' program that will allow for humanitarian, educational, and medicalneeds to be better met. We understand the cruelty embedded in the `oil forfood program' as it affects ordinary Iraqis.

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Bob Edgar
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