Why I Went to Baghdad

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

BY: Bob Edgar

 
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 us dozens of pictures drawn by American children. We shared these pictures with Iraqi children who, in turn, gave us messages to take back to children in the United States.

We are called by God to be peacemakers. War is not inevitable and can be averted, 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 grateful for his words.

We came as humanitarian inspectors, not weapons inspectors. We visited schools and hospitals and saw for ourselves the devastating impact of 12 years of sanctions on the people of Iraq. We touched babies suffering illnesses that can be prevented by proper medication currently unavailable to the people of Iraq. We held the cold hands of children in unheated schools 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 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. We intend to advocate to our government for changes in the `oil for food' program that will allow for humanitarian, educational, and medical needs to be better met. We understand the cruelty embedded in the `oil for food program' as it affects ordinary Iraqis.

We worshiped with Iraqi Christians and in the presence of Muslims; and, we prayed with both. This is the birthplace of Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We acknowledged and celebrated our oneness in God. We attended a New Year's Eve Mass at a Catholic Church and a potluck dinner at a Presbyterian Church--a potluck that would be intimately familiar to American Christians. On the street and in informal settings we experienced the spontaneous warmth, hospitality and openness of the Iraqi people. We feel privileged and honored by these human relationships.

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