From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: NCC delegation returns from Iraq with warning against war

Date Fri, 10 Jan 2003 11:03:48 -0500

January 10, 2003


Episcopalians: NCC delegation returns from Iraq with warning 
against war

by James Solheim

(ENS) A 13-member delegation of church leaders returned from a 
four-day humanitarian visit to Iraq at the end of 2002 with a 
warning that a war would make the United States less secure and 
result in widespread suffering and death for many innocent 
people. The delegation was formed in response to an invitation 
from the Middle East Council of Churches and was led by the Rev. 
Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of 

"We believe the entire region, including Israel and the United 
States, will be at greater risk of terrorism if war takes 
place," the delegation said in a January 3 statement "Sowing the 
Seeds of Peace." The statement also argues that "a preemptive 
war would be immoral, illegal and theologically illegitimate and 
profoundly violates our Christian beliefs and religious 
principles." Participants pledged to meet with leaders of 
Congress and the Bush Administration, as well as United Nations 
Security Council members, to support humanitarian aid for Iraqi 
citizens, especially children.

"Ours is a religious and not a political delegation," the 
statement 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.We are called by God 
to be peacemakers. War is not inevitable and can be averted, 
even at this moment."

Heartbreaking stories

The delegation 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," the statement reported. United Nations 
officials "shared heartbreaking stories of malnutrition, disease 
and hunger with us."

The delegation prayed with Christians and Muslims in the 
birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity 
and Islam. Only three or four percent of Iraqis are Christian. 

"On the street and in informal settings we experienced the 
spontaneous warmth, hospitality and openness of the Iraqi 
people," the statement said, concluding with an admonition 
offered by the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church: 
"Together we must sow the seeds of peace and let God water and 
nurture the seeds."

The delegation 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, making it clear that "we do not 
support authoritarian governments." Aziz is a Chaldean Catholic 
Christian who, according to local church leaders, attends church 
several times a year. His wife is a very devout and active 
member of the Syrian Orthodox Church. 

The threat of war

Ginger Paul of Louisiana, who represents the Episcopal Church on 
the executive board of the NCC, said that she and other members 
of the delegation were "appalled at the conditions for children 
in the hospitals and schools." She said it was clear that the 
Iraqis blame the situation on the sanctions imposed by the 
United Nations following Operation Desert Storm, the Gulf War in 

"The possibility of war is on the minds of everyone," Paul 
reported, "and almost everyone we met pleaded for us to help 
prevent it. One woman reminded us that they have been at war for 
over 20 years." A Christian woman told the group that she had 
lived through the other wars and expected that she would live 
through another war, expressing a kind of resignation, according 
to Paul. Iraqis kept asking members of the delegation, "Why is 
war necessary at this time?" Some said it was for reasons of 
revenge, oil, support for Israel or a desire of the Americans to 
exercise control over the region.

During a visit to a hospital for infants and children, "we 
entered wards with very sick children, some of them dying," Paul 
added. "But the mothers smiled at us and held out their babies 
to touch. It was a very profound, non-verbal connection--one 
that happened everywhere." The group's itinerary was closely 
monitored and "none of us had any illusions about whether we 
were going to get a complete picture of the situation," said 
Paul. "But we did our best in such a short time to put a human 
face on the issue."

Edgar said that he returned from Iraq "committed more than ever 
that our churches are right in opposing the war. It just doesn't 
meet the 'just war' criteria." He is also convinced that the 
children of Iraq will suffer the most. "They will be the biggest 
casualties. This war would have far more impact on ordinary 
civilians than did the Gulf War."


--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service. 
Additional information and photos on the Iraqi visit are 
available on the NCC web site at

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