Into this world,
this demented inn,
in which there is no
room
for him at all
Christ has come
uninvited.

With those for whom
there is no room,
Christ is present in
this world.
He is mysteriously
present
in those for whom
there seems to be
nothing
but the world at its
worst.

-Thomas Merton

from the catholic radical
January, 2000

Christmas In Iraq

- by Chuck Quilty

Chuck Quilty was one of eight members of the 30th delegation of Voices In the Wilderness who traveled to Iraq from December 16-30, 1999 in open defiance of the sanctions. This was Chuck's 7th trip.

One need not be unusually perceptive to realize that Iraq, under its 10th year of comprehensive sanctions, is symbolic of the demented inn in which we live as the sun rises on the new millennium. Nearly daily bombing by the U.S. in the "no-fly zones" remind us that there is no room for those who have been chosen to see the world at its worst. Yet, Christ is present in these "chosen" ones, as we were reminded by a twelve year-old school girl in Saddam City. When asked, "What shall we tell American school children for you?," she responded, "Tell them we are friends!"

On Christmas Eve, 1999, we visited two neighborhoods in Basrah which had been bombed by U.S. planes on January 25, 1999. The first neighborhood we visited was called Abu-Khasib. At 10:10 AM on the 25th, an IGM-130 missile struck the neighborhood killing 11 people, among them were 5 women and 5 children. Another 36 persons were wounded and 11 homes were damaged or destroyed. We photographed Isra, a lovely young girl whose right hand was severed that day as she played in the street in front of her house. We talked with a seventy year-old man whose wife had been killed in the bombing. Another boy's leg was disfigured from shrapnel wounds. Hamid, another young boy, lost his hand and his sister.

That evening, as Archbishop Djibrael Kassab concelebrated the Christmas mass with the three Jesuit members of our delegation and clergy from all the christian rites in Iraq, we felt the joy and strength of the Iraqi people burst forth in incredible beauty. We felt blest to spend Christmas with the Iraqi people. Early on Christmas Day, we visited Basrah Pediatrics and Gynecology Hospital. There we heard that the hospital had 143 cases of congenital deformities in 1999. Dr. Janan Ghalib Hassan showed us pictures of many of these children and asked us, "What crime did they commit?"

These children were born without brains, genitalia, ears, nose, or mouth. Many had fusions or distortions of limbs and most died almost immediately. The only supportive measures for these children were not available. I asked Dr. Karim, a gynecologist, if they still had hope. He replied, "The sanctions have reached our bone marrow." Since the December, 1998, 4-day bombing of Iraq by British and U.S. warplanes to express distain at the expulsion of U.N. weapon inspectors, allied bombing on an almost daily basis has killed approximately 200 Iraqis and injured many more. American and British patrols have flown nearly 16,000 sorties and dropped 550 bombs on southern Iraq and 11,000 sorties and 1,100 bombs in northern Iraq. The December, 1998 bombing drew international criticism. Yet, allied forces have struck more than 5 times the number of targets attacked during those 4 days of intensive attacks. They have flown more than ¾ as many combat missions as NATO pilots did during the 78 days of bombing Yugoslavia. These zones are supposedly areas the U.S. wants to "protect" from the Iraqi government. (Source of bombing figures: the New York Times, Oct. 7, 1999)

According to U.N. figures, 250 Iraqi children die each day as a direct result of sanctions. The almost daily bombing adds heaping coals to the already ashen existence of a suffering people.

Earlier in our trip we visited Imam Abdul Razak Abdul at the Al-Khalani Mosque in Baghdad.

We asked him what message he would send to the religious leaders of the U.S. He said that all holy books are concerned with human rights. "I ask if they find anything in the holy books to justify this slaughter?"

On Christmas, 1999, the last Christmas of the millennium, I found myself echoing the Imam's question - How can this be justified? We who commemorate the slaying of the innocents because Herod was frightened by the birth of Jesus and was determined to hold onto power, must raise our voices and decry the daily slaying of the innocents in Iraq. Write to Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and your congressperson. Tell them to end the slaughter! Tell them Chuck sent you.