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In Iraq to witness against war


Since Dec. 8, I have been traveling in Iraq with a delegation of Catholic clergy, sisters and laypeople. We came in the season of Advent, when Christians of all denominations prepare for the coming of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We are in Iraq to give witness to our conviction and the conviction of millions of religious people of all faiths around the world that war against Iraq would constitute a moral, social and political disaster. We are here to meet face to face with the people who will suffer most in any war waged against the current Iraqi regime -- the poor, the mothers and children, the sick and the hungry, and all those who have already borne the brunt of 12 years of deadly economic sanctions.

President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration say Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction and must be disarmed before it uses them against the United States. Yet the arguments for Iraq posing an immediate threat are unsubstantiated; the CIA has argued that Iraq is unlikely to use such weapons unless pushed into a corner. The White House seems intent on pushing Iraq into that corner.

If the administration’s true intent is to protect Americans from the threat of Iraq’s weapons, the most effective means, perhaps the only sure means, is through patient, comprehensive inspections by competent and independent U.N. inspectors. In that way, we can be sure where such weapons might be and neutralize them under controlled conditions. A war to disarm Iraq will only ensure that any weapons of mass destruction that might exist will quickly find their way out of Iraq and into the hands of the highest bidder -- most likely the terrorists who have proven their intent and ability to attack us.

In another time, not too long ago, a credible (though ultimately proven to be concocted) threat in the Gulf of Tonkin raised the ire of U.S. leaders and paved the way for a devastating war. This time, before policymakers naively rush into a war on Iraq, the hard questions must be addressed. What is the administration’s response to the fact that such a war will likely result in the dispersal of the weapons we seek to eliminate? What is the administration’s plan for bringing lasting peace to Iraq and the region? How will the administration deal with the real prediction of a dramatic and deadly increase in the number of those who would turn to terrorism in response to a U.S. war on Iraq?

This war is perceived in the region and around the world as an attempt to take control of Iraq’s huge oil reserves. Unfortunately, there is indeed weight to this argument. Is this administration really prepared to sacrifice our future security in order to secure a temporary boost to our oil-based economy and our “freedom” to drive fad vehicles like SUVs?

These questions must be raised by all conscientious citizens and addressed adequately by any administration that would lead us down the dark, destructive path of war.

Our world today is scarred by fear: fear of war, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction. We must deal with terrorism and the threat of terrorism, but we in the United States cannot allow fear to rule our hearts.

We are here in Iraq as a gesture of peace in the hope of staying the hands of those who would make war. We are here, not as an act of anti-Americanism, but quite the contrary. We are in Iraq to witness to the fact that the time-honored American values of honesty, generosity and a willingness to take risks in pursuit of our convictions and ideals are still relevant and are the basis of any real American leadership in the world. We are in Iraq because we believe that there is a path through fear -- the path of human relationship. We are here in Iraq offering a living witness to the words and example of Jesus who teaches us to believe that God’s power experienced in human communion can overcome division, and that nonviolent resistance can overcome systems of injustice.

We are in Iraq to seek peace.

Dave Robinson is national coordinator of Pax Christi USA.

National Catholic Reporter, January 10, 2003