Letter to President Clinton on Iraq Embargo, September 23, 1999

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

September 27, 1999 

The Honorable William J. Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500 .

Dear Mr. President: 

We write as religious leaders and as concerned citizens to seek your support for addressing the worsening humanitarian crisis in Iraq by quickly ending the comprehensive economic sanctions which have been in place for over nine years. 

We have long been deeply concerned by clear evidence that the embargo against Iraq is contributing to falling living standards and life expectancy. By almost every measure -- such as malnutrition, child mortality and overall morbidity -- the situation of most Iraqi civilians has deteriorated markedly over the past eight years. A recent UNICEF survey of infant and maternal mortality shows marked and widespread declines in these basic indicators throughout most of Iraq. As another UN report stated earlier this year: "The gravity of the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people is indisputable and cannot be overstated." 

We know from visits to Iraq by staff of our various organizations that Iraq is facing a deepening social and humanitarian crisis. Reports from colleagues in the region testify to its very personal significance for most Iraqis. Many lack adequate food and clean water. Diseases run rampant for lack of basic medicines. Family structures, education levels and living standards are all deteriorating. The scale of this suffering requires a prompt, effective response. 

After nine years under economic sanctions imposed at the end of the Gulf War, as well as damage inflicted by the war itself, the economy of Iraq has virtually collapsed. In recent years Iraq has imported substantial quantities of food and medicine through the oil-for-food program under UN supervision. This is an important but inadequate response to the humanitarian crisis. It was never intended to meet the overall needs of Iraq's people. Even with expanded sales now permitted, this program cannot meet basic needs, much less fund the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure and civilian economy, which alone can ensure adequate nutrition and health standards. 

We are well aware that the embargo is by no means the sole cause of the continuing suffering of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi government's failure to comply with the Gulf War cease-fire resolutions and to take full advantage of existing exemptions to feed and care for its people is indefensible. So too is the apparent diversion of scarce resources to the armed forces and security services. These clearly make an untenable situation worse. The Iraqi government's actions, however, do not relieve the international community of its responsibility to end the dreadful suffering caused by the embargo. The international community cannot pursue its legitimate goal of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction by threatening the lives and livelihood of innocent people. Continuing to do so effectively punishes the Iraqi people for the misdeeds of an authoritarian regime over which they have no control. 

We therefore urge that the economic embargo be ended quickly. Restrictions on normal trade in civilian goods should be lifted, while retaining appropriate political sanctions and a strict embargo on military-related items. Taking these steps should not be seen as rewarding irresponsible conduct on the part of the Iraqi government, but as necessary to relieve a morally intolerable situation for which the international community bears a share of responsibility. Whatever the cause, whoever the adversary, we cannot tolerate the suffering and death of countless innocents, especially the very old and the very young. It is time for fresh thinking and new approaches. 

We do not underestimate the challenges posed by the Iraqi government and its determination to retain weapons of mass destruction. But the continued effort to restrain Iraq's acquisition of these weapons should be pursued through more focused and morally defensible means. While pursuing Iraqi disarmament, fresh efforts toward regional disarmament should also be undertaken. In signing UN Security Council Resolution 687 that ended the Gulf War, the United States pledged that disarming Iraq was to be a step toward "the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction." Serious efforts to negotiate a regional regime for such weapons, which would improve prospects for success in controlling Iraq's arsenals, should commence as soon as possible. 

In closing, we again wish you well and urge that you act promptly to help meet the pressing needs of the people of Iraq. We say with all our strength and conviction: Do not delay in addressing the dire situation of "the least of these" who now suffer in Iraq! 


The Right Reverend Craig B. Anderson

The Reverend George H. Anderson
Presiding Bishop
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

Mathews Mar Barnabas
Metropolitan of the American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Church (India) 

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America 

John A. Buehrens 
Unitarian Universalist Association 

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell
General Secretary
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA 

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza
National Conference of Catholic Bishops 

Brother Stephen Glodek, SM
Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes 

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary
Reformed Church of America 

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
Episcopal Church, USA 

William Boyd Grove
Ecumenical Officer
United Methodist Council of Bishops 

Richard L. Hamm
General Minister and President
The Christian Church Disciples of Christ in the U.S. and Canada 

Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim
Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch 

Clifton Kirkpatrick
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 

Dr. Ronald J.R. Mathies
Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee 

Johan Maurer
General Secretary
Friends United Meeting 

Kara Newell
Executive Director
American Friends Service Committee 

Metropolitan Philip Saliba
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America 

Paul H. Sherry
United Church of Christ 

Metropolitan Theodosius
Orthodox Church in America 

The Right Reverend Dr. Zacharias Mar
Mar Thomas Church 

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation 

Bishop Vsevolod
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of USA 

The Rev. Dr. Daniel Weiss
General Secretary
American Baptist Churches

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