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.
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.
We worshiped with Iraqi Christians and in the presence of Muslims; and, weprayed 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 dinnerat a Presbyterian Church--a potluck that would be intimately familiar toAmerican Christians. On the street and in informal settings we experiencedthe spontaneous warmth, hospitality and openness of the Iraqi people. Wefeel privileged and honored by these human relationships.
We came with `what?' questions--`what's going on?' `what can we discover?'but we were met with `why?' questions--`why us?' `why now?' We haveconcluded that we are opposed to this war because:
1. We pledge support for the "All Our Children" campaign, a project of theChurch World Service and other partners.
2. We will continue to build constructive, positive relationships betweenour nations and peoples through our ecumenical and interfaith relationships.
3. We will meet with U.S. administration and Congressional leaders to urgethem to turn away from war. We will ask U.S. government and militaryleaders to take the time to learn the names and faces of average, ordinaryIraqi people.
4. We will meet with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council toseek a revamped and more humane `oil for food' program.