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Iraqis Face Enormous Human Disaster If There's War,
Says Church World Service Executive Director McCullough

February 7, 2003, NEW YORK CITY -- "Iraqis are facing an enormous human disaster if there is a war," says Church World Service Executive Director John L. McCullough, who just returned after five days in Iraq as part of a mission to investigate the humanitarian and human rights consequences of war. "We are on the verge of opening a Pandora's box."

McCullough is a member of the steering committee for the mission, led by the New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights.  The mission is investigating the impact military strikes would have on food security and public health for Iraq’s 26 million people. It is the first comprehensive mission to incorporate the latest field data within the international law framework governing war.

CESR researchers have concluded that a U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq would trigger the collapse of an already fragile Iraqi public health system, badly damaged by 12 years of economic sanctions, leading to a humanitarian crisis that would far exceed the capacity of the United Nations and relief agencies. (See additional information from CESR, which follows.)

While in Baghdad Jan. 22-27, McCullough visited several churches and mosques and participated three services and observed Muslim prayers. One service was in a mostly elderly Christian congregation, another in which a priest was being consecrated.

The third was an interfaith, multi-generational service of prayer for peace, held at the Church of the Virgin Mary. That was the most somber of the three services, he said. "You could see in their faces they were weighted down. They had gathered out of a deep concern for peace."

At that service, four altar girls and one altar boy assisted the archbishop. "They were attentive to their duties, yet playful," McCullough said. "They were looking around at what was going on, and making eye contact with me as a visitor." He said he found people to be "warm and friendly, at ease, interacting comfortably, in spite of what they have been up against."

Christians are about three percent of Iraq’s population, he said. While a small community, "they feel there is little appreciation in the United States of the continuous presence of Christianity in Iraq since the first century."

McCullough had opportunity to talk with many ordinary Iraqis about the effect of the sanctions and the threat of a U.S.-led war.

"From their vantage point, it’s a real ‘reach’ for them to view American intervention at this point as positive," McCullough reported. "People see the U.S. presence as a threat to their national sovereignty, culture and religion. Iraqis have a tremendous sense of national pride. They asked me, ‘Do Americans believe that theirs is the only country blessed by God?’

"While Iraqis have to live under a dictatorship, they don’t see that as unusual in the region," McCullough continued. "It’s not that they don’t have problems with Saddam Hussein’s regime - they do. But they feel that what they would suffer in a war wouldn’t be worth the change in government. They ask, ‘Why this aggression now? What changed?"

Moreover, he said, Iraqis hold the United States responsible for the sanctions, under which 1.3 million Iraqi children have died - largely for lack of adequate medical care.

"When they look at what the presence of the United States has meant, they see massive suffering. People are dying of hunger and unable to get basic medical care. They also are looking at the impact of the U.S. bombings in the ‘no-fly zone’ in Iraq’s north and the loss of life and property and constant trauma in that part of the country," he said. "Civilians are being killed and injured."

The average American thinks sanctions are a good strategy, but the people who bear the brunt are average Iraqis, not the leaders, McCullough confirmed. "The sanctions should be lifted and the bombing raids should be stopped. The United States should take another look at its national values and employ them in a process that would result in a resolution of these problems."

Iraqi pastors urged Americans to "join them in prayers for peace, for the leaders of our two countries to engage each other in constructive dialogue and to find more peaceful solutions to the problems they face in their respective communities," McCullough said.



Researchers from the Center for Economic and Social Rights Reveal Relief Agencies Unprepared for Likely Humanitarian Catastrophe in Iraq

New York, January 30, 2003 -- A US-led military intervention in Iraq will trigger the collapse of an already fragile Iraqi public health system, leading to a humanitarian crisis that far exceeds the capacity of the United Nations and relief agencies, according to a report released today in Baghdad by the New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).

Researchers associated with CESR report that the fragile Iraqi health care system, already badly damaged by 12 years of economic sanctions, is woefully inadequate to deal with the effects of a new war. Among their findings:

92% of hospitals surveyed indicated they were lacking basic medical equipment;

Intra-operative and post-operative surgical care is virtually unavailable;

Basic laboratory tests are limited by a chronic lack of essential equipment and supplies;

Damage to electrical and water systems will severely constrain medical services;

Shortages of medications, including antibiotics, already undermine routine medical care; and

Medical system is poorly equipped to handle care of civilian casualties resulting from war.

The report warns that while UN agencies anticipate a "humanitarian emergency of exceptional scale and magnitude," they lack an effective response capacity. "Our report confirms that it is unlikely that international relief agencies can avert a major humanitarian disaster," said Michael Van Rooyen, Director of the Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Refugee Studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Iraq has become like a vast refugee camp," said Ronald Waldman, Professor of Clinical Public Health and Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. "The population survives largely on government food rations and depends on a fragile public health system. They are extremely vulnerable."

The report’s findings are based on a research mission from January 19-29 by a CESR team of 16 humanitarian experts, including Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq. Working in northern, central and southern Iraq, team members interviewed UN and Iraqi government officials; visited hospitals, clinics, public markets, electricity, water and sanitation plants, and other civilian sites; and reviewed confidential UN documents.

The research findings question the capacity of relevant actors to operate effectively in light of the anticipated destruction of transportation and communications systems and the collapse of the public infrastructure. Current health and nutritional needs of the Iraqi population are served by a massive and highly complex system administered by the government of Iraq. US-based relief organizations which the United States hopes will replace these crucial government-run operations in the event of war have little or no recent history of working in Iraq. The time necessary for them to become fully operational in Iraq may result in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Pentagon war plans for Iraq explicitly threaten the precarious civilian infrastructure, in violation of international law. One of the first targets of the planned military campaign will be Iraq's electricity grid, which will cause catastrophic damage to water, sanitation, public health, and food distribution systems. As in the 1991 Gulf War, this form of warfare will claim an enormous number of civilian lives, many of them children. Such disproportionate collateral damage would violate fundamental principles of the laws of war, including the Geneva conventions-which prohibit attacking "objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population."

Philip Alston, Professor of Law at New York University and former top U.N. human rights official, said "The rules of engagement are clear. If war cannot be prevented, both the United States and Iraq are obligated to comply with the same standards to which every other country in the world is subject. President Bush has publicly threatened war crimes prosecution for every Iraqi soldier who follows illegal orders. This is entirely appropriate. But no American official has warned U.S. troops that they too can be held accountable for war crimes. If any party seeks to act above the law, CESR and likeminded human rights groups will work to ensure they are held accountable for their actions."

Roger Normand, Executive Director of CESR, said "It is now the duty of global civil society to demand that the Bush Administration abide by these laws, not only for the sake of innocent civilians in Iraq, but also to avoid a precedent whereby children and other noncombattants are deprived of all protections in war."

CESR also concluded a first round of talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and other members of the Iraqi government as part of an international civic peace initiative organized by the Center. Comprised of prominent experts in conflict resolution and international human rights law from the United States, South Africa, Germany, and Australia, the CESR delegation wrapped up a week-long series of preliminary discussions on disarmament and regional security. Roelf Meyer, Chair of the Civil Society Initiative of South Africa and former Minister of Defense and Constitutional Affairs, said "The next step will be to report to the President [Thabo Mbeki, President of the Republic of South Africa] and the international press. The joint way forward is a government, multilateral organization, and civic society initiative in the time that is available to avoid war."

The Center for Economic and Social Rights, based in New York is a non-partisan international organization dedicated to promoting social justice through human rights. CESR executive staff has led six humanitarian missions to Iraq, including the Harvard Study Team and International Study Team missions in March and August of 1991. CESR's mission to Iraq in 1996, the first to document human rights violations caused by Security Council sanctions, was featured by the CBS news program 60 Minutes. CESR is funded by a broad range of individuals and foundations, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, Ford and Joyce Mertz-Gilmore foundations.

For copies of the report and full list of participants, contact Riptide Communications (212) 260-5000 or CESR (718) 237-9145 ext. 13 or Ayliz Baskin by email at ( ).

Click here for additional background on the CESR mission.


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