End the Iraqi embargo now

Concord Monitor – Saturday, March 7, 1998
By Bishop Craig Anderson

The world teetered for a few days on the brink of war in Iraq but cooler heads prevailed and we find ourselves now hoping we can carry it a step further – ending the trade embargo that has devastated the people of Iraq.

A week before the United States brokered a peaceful resolution with Iraq through UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the National Council of Churches, one of the nation’s largest religious organizations, sent a letter to President Clinton urging a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi crisis.

In my role as president of the organization, I had written to President Clinton, urging him to: “Continue diplomacy patiently, even doggedly. Insist on UN compliance but practice restraint. Pursue a humanitarian, not a military, option.”

While the successful diplomatic effort to resolve – at least for now – the crisis in Iraq came as heartening news to many religious leaders, we’re still concerned about the trade embargo against Iraq.

In that same letter to President Clinton, we urged that a way be found to shift the embargo against Iraq so that it affects only military supplies to allow the world community to “address the need for food, clean water and healthcare for the Iraqi people.”

Such a move would go a long way toward ending the malnutrition and disease that already has claimed more than one million lives in Iraq; half of them children.

The embargo must end. It has been an ineffective strategy at a needless cost of human suffering. Alternatively an aggressive humanitarian embrace of the Iraqi people offers a resolution through compassion and puts forward a sign of hope. It is not too late for such a course and it can be pursued at a fraction of the cost of war. It builds on the provisions of aid in which our member churches and other religious communities have long engaged.

It promises to draw Iraq back into the family of nations in place of a future of greater isolation and disrespect. It offers healing not further hurt. It conforms to the best in the hearts of the American people.

In our letter, we wrote, “We are attracted to the Mennonite proposal of ‘a massive effort to provide medicine and food for starving and sick Iraqi people.’ Suppose our planes and personnel were commissioned to deliver aid, not drop bombs. Suppose our policy was to resupply hospitals, offer skilled medical care, open access to foodstuffs, rebuild the infrastructure needed for the flow of life, pursue economic development and other foundational ingredients of peace. It is a vision with practical and strategic possibility.”

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