(Middle East News Press) Chicago, May 31 -- Faith-based communities, sponsored by Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the economic sanctions against Iraq, have delivered a letter to President Bush urging an immediate end to economic sanctions on Iraq.

Ten major faith-based groups and thirty prominent leaders of religious and humanitarian communities have co-signed the letter. It emphasizes their opposition to fundamentals of US policy toward Iraq during a critical juncture in US negotiations at the UN.

Signers include Pax Christi USA), Baptist Peace Fellowship, American Muslim Council, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Sisters of Charity, and nine Catholic Bishops. Over the last ten years religious groups have consistently opposed the economic sanctions on moral grounds because they have failed to achieve peace in the region and have imposed death and suffering on innocent civilians. The letter represents the concerns of hundreds of thousands of people who have campaigned to end the economic sanctions.

The letter applauds President Bush's willingness to work with faith-based communities. Yet it states "If the Iraqi people are to enjoy the fundamental human rights to education, housing, health care, employment, adequate food, and culture, we must look now toward a post-sanctions commitment to facilitate large-scale investments of public and private monies desperately needed to rehabilitate Iraq's shattered economy."

The US supported UK proposal currently under negotiation in the UN Security Council forbids foreign investment in Iraq. Speaking of the nearly eleven-year-old sanctions on Iraq last month, Pope John Paul II said, "As the embargo [on Iraq] continues to claim victims, I renew my appeal to the international community that innocent people should not be made to pay the consequences of a destructive war whose effects are still being felt by those who are weakest and most vulnerable." An accompanying letter to White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Director, John Dilulio, urges him to seek an end to the economic sanctions and encourage fair relations with Iraqi people.

While the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives office was created to focus on domestic concerns, the signers believe that U.S. policy toward Iraq does affect American people. Spending on the maintenance of sanctions and our massive troop presence in the region diverts funds that could be used to help relieve the suffering endured by poor people here in the U.S. The letter to Dilulio also expresses concern that the present policy erodes U.S. credibility as a nation that respects the core teachings of tolerance and love that are the center of so many faiths.

Rabbi Douglas Krantz, of Congregation B'nai Yisrael in Armonk, NY, recently witnessed first hand the devastation wrought on ordinary Iraqis by sanctions and bombardment when he visited Iraq as part of a delegation of religious leaders. Rabbi Krantz says he signed the letter to Bush because, "The sanctions are immoral and ineffective."

While there is a current proposal being debated by the Security Council that would allow an increased flow of commodities, it does not address the urgent and devastating humanitarian situation in Iraq.

By only allowing commodities into the country, "smart" sanctions will fail to address Iraq's massive unemployment, hyper-inflation, widespread poverty and failing infrastructure. Stressing the importance of faith-based initiatives, President Bush has urged the faithful to exercise compassion.

The signers urge President George Bush to realize his moral responsibility to Iraqi people who have suffered under the US led sanctions and bombing. They invite President Bush to align himself with religious leaders and communities who advocate actions and policies rooted in love of neighbor and love of enemy.

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