Iraq Crisis Letter to Editor

November 17, 1997

Peace and Social Justice Ministry

Catholic Diocese of Joliet


Dear Editor

I am writing to urge the public to call for the end of economic sanctions against the people of Iraq and to call for renewed diplomatic endeavors instead of the specter of war we are now facing.

Over seven years after the bombs stopped falling on Iraq, the war continues against the civilian population in the form of economic sanctions. Economic warfare has taken the lives of over one million persons, the vast majority of whom are children under five years of age. Independent agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN's own Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) continue to document the devastating impact sanctions are having on the civilian population. In 1996, UNICEF reported that 4,500 children were dying monthly.

Archbishop Kassab of Southern Iraq reports: "Epidemics rage, taking away infants and the sick by the thousands. Those children who survive disease succumb to malnutrition, which stunts their physical and mental development. Our situation is unbearable! We appeal to people of conscience to work to end the blockade of Iraq."

All of this in a population of 20 million persons who, before 1990, enjoyed a highly developed lifestyle. One author of the FAO report appropriately called this genocide. The sanctions are a silent but more deadly form of warfare than the military campaign of 1991.

Whatever the intent of these sanctions, the means violates the most basic tenants of Catholic Christian moral theology. Moreover, they violate international law by targeting civilians and the infrastructure necessary for their existence. "It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as food, livestock, agricultural areas and drinking water installations." (Art. 48, Geneva Conventions).

The 1991 bombing campaign systematically destroyed electric, water and sewage plants, as well as agricultural, food and medical production facilities. All of these structures continue to be inoperative, or function at sub-minimal levels, because the sanctions have made it impossible to buy spare parts for their repair. In 1991, the UN said that it would take $21 Billion just to repair the infrastructure.

UN Resolution 986, the food-for-oil deal, agreed to by the Security Council and the Government of Iraq, allows Iraq to sell $2 billion of oil every six months for food and medicine and minor infrastructure concerns. While this has salved the conscience of some, it has done little to alleviate what former Attorney General Ramsey Clark called "the one crime against humanity in this last decade of the millennium that exceeds all others...."

While it can be argued that Saddam Hussein has diverted the little food and medicine allowed into his country into his own coffers instead of distributing them to his people, we must remember that Iraq is a nation of 20 million people, not of the one Saddam Hussein. Moral reasoning dictates that any harm inflicted be in proportion to the good achieved. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, most of them children, cannot be justified in our attempt to remove an aggressor dictator. Time, infact, has proven these actions to be counter productive to that goal.

In a recent address at St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II expressed his fear of renewed conflict in Iraq. "In this moment of extreme tension that does not seem to exclude the possibility of a new armed confrontation with Iraq, I want to make a heartfelt appeal so that the path of dialogue and diplomacy isn't abandoned as a way to preserve and reinforce international justice and law."

It is our duty as moral citizens of the leading nation for human rights and democratic freedoms to condemn this aggression and demand that the US end sanctions and seek diplomatic means to end the current crisis.


Thomas L. Garlitz

Director Peace and Social Justice Ministry,

Catholic Diocese of Joliet