From the Worldwide Faith News archives

NCC-Led Religious Leaders Mission to Iraq Concludes Today

From Worldwide Faith News <>
Date Thu, 02 Jan 2003 17:09:03 -0800

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Info/Interviews: Contact Trevor Fitzgibbon, 202-246-5303
NCC Communication Department, 212-870-2252/2227;


January 2, 2002, Baghdad, IRAQ - A 13-member religious leaders' mission to
Iraq heads back to the United States tomorrow (Jan. 3) after witnessing the
20-year legacy of suffering of Iraqi civilians - especially children - and
burdened with the knowledge that war would further deepen that suffering.

Terming preemptive war immoral, illegal and theologically illegitimate, the
group contends that a war against Iraq would result in widespread suffering
and death for innocent people and would make the U.S. less secure, not more

"Ours is a religious and not a political delegation," emphasized Dr. Bob
Edgar at a closing news conference (5:30 p.m. today, Iraq time).  "We came
as humanitarian inspectors, not weapons inspectors."  The group's four-day
itinerary included visits to schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and
humanitarian aid agencies.

Dr. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (U.S.A.)
and a United Methodist minister, led the delegation, which 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

The group was hosted by the Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, Middle East Council of
Churches General Secretary.  It arrived in Baghdad close to midnight Dec. 29
and is to depart early the morning of Jan. 3, landing back in New York City
late that afternoon.

"We came to meet with our counterparts in churches and mosques, visit with
international aid and UN workers to learn more about the humanitarian
situation in Iraq," Dr. Edgar said.  "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."

While in Iraq, the group went to four houses of worship, including Syrian
Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic churches and a mosque.  Group members
attended a New Year's Eve Mass at a Catholic Church and potluck dinner at a
Presbyterian church - "a potluck that would be intimately familiar to
American Christians," Dr. Edgar commented.

Group members visited two hospitals, the Red Crescent Society, UNICEF and a
school, and visited holy sites and traditional Babylon.  "On the street and
in informal settings," they said, "we experienced the spontaneous warmth,
hospitality and openness of the Iraqi people."

Delegation members brought along dozens of pictures drawn by American
children to share with Iraqi children who, in turn, gave the group messages
to take back to children in the United States.

"We visited schools and hospitals and saw for ourselves the devastating
impact of 12 years of sanctions on the people of Iraq," Dr. Edgar said.  "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

The group also met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and asked
"pointed questions" about the human rights situation in Iraq, the
opportunities for dissent and criticism of the government, and choices made
by the government with the resources available to it.  "We want to be clear
with the American people and the Iraqi government that we do not support
authoritarian governments," the group said.

Dr. Edgar said that upon return to the United States, the delegation intends
to advocate with the U.S. government for changes in the "oil for food"
program that will allow for humanitarian, educational and medical needs to
be better met.

The group also stated its conviction that "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."

Further details will be released following the group's return to the United
States.  A list of participants follows.
Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches (U.S.A.) and
a United Methodist minister; New York City; Dr. Huw Anwyl, Minister, United
Church of Christ, Laguna Niguel, Calif.; Rev. Ray Buchanan, President, Stop
Hunger Now and United Methodist Minister, Raleigh, N.C.; Rev. John Buehrens,
minister former president, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Needham,
Mass.  Rev. Buehrens also is a special assistant to the secretary general of
the World Conference on Religion and Peace; the Rev. Dr. Robert Evans,
Executive Director, Plowshares Institute, Presbyterian Pastor, Simsbury,
Also, Robin Hoecker, Legislative Assistant, Unitarian Universalist
Association, Washington, D.C.; Dr. Victor Makari, General Assembly staff,
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, Ky. Don Mosley, co-founder of
Jubilee Partners, Comer, Ga.; Ms. Virginia (Ginger) Paul, Episcopal Church,
Executive Committee, Shreveport, La.; Dr. Samer Shehata, Assistant Professor
of Arab Politics, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; Bishop Melvin
Talbert, Ecumenical Officer, The United Methodist Church, Brentwood, Tenn.;
James Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society,
United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C.; Ms. Amy (Kalee) Kreider, Fenton
Communications, Washington, D.C. (media liaison).

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