Faith groups care in Iraq

Months before President Bush vowed Sunday night to continue the much-debated war in Iraq, faith-based groups were quietly caring for Iraq's most vulnerable people: its children.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 8, 2003

Months before President Bush vowed Sunday night to continue the much-debated war in Iraq, faith-based groups have been quietly caring for the people they regard as Iraq's most vulnerable: its children.

Leading a campaign called "All Our Children," Church World Service has collaborated with Lutheran World Relief (LWR), Mennonite Central Committee, and CWS's denominational partners.

"All Our Children" focuses on medical needs, which remain a priority as Iraq tries to rebuild amid continued instability and insecurity. Participating groups aim to raise $1 million and have raised more than $500,000 so far.

Meanwhile President Bush Sunday asked Congress for $87 billion to fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, appealing for troops and money from other countries.

As soldiers continue to be killed in Iraq, humanitarian groups have become increasingly concerned about security. A United Nations humanitarian convoy was attacked in July, and an Iraqi United Nations (UN) driver was killed. At that time, the UN vowed it wouldn't curtail humanitarian operations in Iraq.

Then four major bombing attacks hit Iraq in a month, raising alarms about Bush's handling of Iraq. Republicans and Democrats alike have been coming forward to publicly urge Bush to change course.

Public questions regarding the failure to find weapons of mass destruction -- or Saddam Hussein -- have also been increasing the pressure on Bush to justify the nation's continued presence in Iraq.

But Bush, in his Sunday night speech, said the United States would not retreat. Speaking four days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he tried to rally support for his policy by arguing the U.S. needs to stay engaged in Iraq in order to prevent future terrorist attacks. "The surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans," he said. "We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today, so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities."

Bush said Iraq and the Middle East were critical to winning a global war on terror. Some 130,000 troops are currently in Iraq.

Faith-based groups across the board voiced their opposition to the war in Iraq well before it began. While some groups refused to engage in humanitarian aid in the country because they opposed the war, CWS and its partners have been continuing humanitarian relief efforts in the face of growing insecurity.

After an August 19 blast at the UN headquarters in Baghdad, LWF President Kathryn Wolford vowed to continue the "All Our Children" campaign. "We won't let the humanitarian principles we represent be one of the casualties of this senseless act," she said.

The bombing killed 22 people and injured 160.

John Nduna, acting director of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, expressed his sadness at losing humanitarian colleagues whose lives were sacrificed. "The UN's loss is everyone's loss," he said. "This destructive and violent act may for the moment overshadow the humanitarian world, but the legacy of...colleagues who died, as well as those who were injured, will live on as a testimony to their courage, compassion and commitment to bringing dignity to the lives of countless people across the world."

Steve Weaver, CWS international disaster response consultant added that insecurity in Iraq has not hindered the work he is doing on behalf of CWS and the "All Our Children" campaign to provide health and medical assistance to Iraqi children.

Since 1991, CWS has contributed more than $5 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq.

Infant mortality rose faster in Iraq than in any other country in the 1990s. Humanitarian groups report that improved sanitation and better water are the keys to better children's health, since unclean water is a big reason so many children in Iraq get sick.

Most recently, through the "All Our Children" campaign, CWS and its partners purchased 100 beds for the Ibn Al-Aheer and Al Khassa Pediatric Hospitals in Mosul, where there are not enough beds for the patients. Two or three children have to share each bed, resulting in transmission of infections and delay in healing because children can't get enough rest.

The campaign also included a book project to sensitize children about landmines, hygiene, and other safety and health issues. An Iraqi artist and an Iraqi social worker are leading children in an interactive process to develop the book and distribute copies in Iraqi schools, especially in rural areas.

CWS and its partners also purchased and distributed fresh foods for 58 hospitals with supplementary deliveries of dry food to seven hospitals and powdered milk to 18 hospitals.

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