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[casi] August 2002: A message to the world

This is Msgr Kassab's first-hand account of
the most brutal sanctions ever inflicted on
any country. The sanctions that killed about
1.5 million Iraqis, many of them children.

When Msgr Kassab says "we", he means all Iraqis.
And when he speaks of "our children" or "our
students", he means all young people of Iraq.

"Let it be known", said the Archbishop, "that
Resolution 986 (the so-called 'oil-for-food'
resolution) has served to divert world attention
from the tragedy, while in some respects
aggravating it." - A 'humanitarian program',
USUK called OFF.


>From Archbishop Gabriel Kassab of Basrah, Iraq

Greetings to you from Basrah, Iraq!
Greetings to you from Ur, City of Abraham!
Greetings to you from the peaceful, helpless people of
southern Iraq!
Greetings to you from a land blessed by God with natural
beauty, wealth and strategic location, which unfortunately
made it a target in two destructive wars: the Iran-Iraq
war of 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf war in 1991.

This great land was subjected to mass destruction of its
civilisation as well as its people, especially in the
southern part of the country, Al-Basrah, which was the
centre of all attacks and wars. From here, I stand
before you as an eye witness to what happened to this
area, the southern part of the country, or what we refer
to as Al-Basrah. I am not going to elaborate on what
happened to the area in the Iraq-Iran war where I
witnessed more than four hundred bombs fall on this city
in one day. But I will tell you today about what I have
been witnessing for the past six years as Archbishop of
the Archdiocese of Al-Basrah. Due to the embargo, the
sanctions, the life of the whole city has been
paralysed. Malnutrition due to scarcity of food has
become a major reason for mental and physical
retardation, especially for small children and new-borns.

Scarcity of medication has become a direct cause for a
dramatic increase in the number of chronic diseases and
deaths, especially among the elderly and the children.
It has been very difficult, if not impossible, to
provide medical help for those who need it, even during
emergencies. Lack of medical devices and medications
leave doctors and hospitals helpless when it comes to
performing operations or emergency work. Surgeries have
been done without anaesthesia or pain relievers.

Unsanitary water conditions were a direct cause for many
communicable diseases to appear and spread after they
had been eradicated decades ago. This will affect
generations and generations.

Lack of electricity for long hours daily has become
another reason for abnormal and unhealthy life
conditions. Factories and manufacturers stopped
operating. Small workshops had to close down and most
household electrical equipment is ruined. In addition,
the lack of electricity prevents school children from
having proper studying conditions. Many students have
had to drop out of school because they could not afford
school supplies, clothes and shoes. Many drop out of
school so they can help support their families.

School conditions are unhealthy and unsanitary: windows
without glass, classes without chairs or desks, offices
without necessary supplies. Our students in many schools
sit on the floor or use milk crates to sit on and study
in their classrooms. There is no maintenance of any
kind; the situation is miserable. In the hospitals the
conditions are unbearable not only due to scarcity of
medical and sterile supplies, but also due to the
unavailability of medical devices and machines needed
for simple daily use in any basic hospital (for example
syringes and needles).

What can I say about the sewer system and the dirty
water which fills our streets and many times our homes?
And I can tell you much more about our miserable life
and all the problems that we face every day.

Our social life has been destroyed. Many psychological
and mental problems are spreading widely day after day
through the people, especially between our youngsters.
Worry and stress are causing nightmares for everyone,
especially our children.

The number of very poor families increases by the day.
Job opportunities are impossible and the jobless rate is
very high. Signs of poverty and malnutrition are
apparent on everyone's face. There is begging in our
streets and searching garbage cans. Children perform
disgraceful acts and do jobs that are not allowed or
accepted anywhere else in the world. It is an unbearable
situation, improper and unjust for any human being
anywhere in the world.

Brothers and sisters, I stand before you today to give
you a small picture of all the negative aspects of life
that we have to encounter and live through every day as
a whole country, and especially in southern Iraq, in
Al-Basrah. And it is no secret to anyone in the
humanitarian organisations that the way we live our
lives is simply inhumane and unacceptable to any just
person. What I say to you today is a fact that I live
and witness every day.

Everything I share with you today goes back to one
single reason: The embargo, the sanctions, that have
been imposed on us for the past 12 years. If it was not
for this embargo, we would not have had to suffer
without food, clean water, sanitary conditions. For we
have enough natural resources to use and to maintain a
normal healthy life. If it was not for the embargo, we
could have good school systems, lunches for our
children, so they could study and progress in their
daily schooling.

To all of you people of conscience, we raise our voice
asking for your help to lift the embargo, the sanctions,
from us, from the people of Iraq, and apply justice by
allowing us to get what is necessary for our daily
survival. We, the people of Al-Basrah, ask you in the
name of all the sufferers, in the name of our children,
who are without milk, in the name of the elderly and the
sick, who await their medicine. We, the innocent people,
ask you and beg you to urge your government officials to
lift the embargo imposed on us.

My brothers and sisters, I have high hopes and faith
that you will deliver my message and request to
responsible officials. To stand beside us and support
the people who are suffering, is nothing more than doing

These difficult circumstances gave our church a great
opportunity to do its apostolic duty to serve humanity.
We, as members of the church, are doing our best effort
to give the "embargo" a different face, and that is:
That the "embargo" is not just a penalty imposed by some
people on others, but rather, in reality, an opportunity
to sanctify the soul, and to help it to accept and
withstand pain and suffering and view them as an
opportunity for redemption.

Against all existing difficulties, we do our best to
lighten the burdens of pain and suffering on our
brothers, sisters and children and all our people.

We have opened, within our parish, a free pharmacy for
distributing medicines to the poor patients, who have no
money or access to medical supplies. We also provide
them with money needed to obtain surgical operations.

For small children, we have tried our best to allow them
to live their childhood within reasonable circumstances.
So we opened two kindergartens, provided them with
learning supplies and reasonable comfort. We also
transport the children back and forth and provide them
with free breakfast every day. As for the young people,
our hope for the future, they are in our mind and
conscience all the time. We feel badly for their
difficult psychological conditions. Because of that, we
have opened an institute for teaching the operation and
use of computers. We expect to graduate from this
institute about 150 young people, boys and girls. We
take care of all expenses, and the training is free for
the students. We are also in the process of preparing an
athletic field for their free time.

We also participate in providing free transportation for
students to go to their regular schools, colleges and
universities. As a separate project for younger boys and
girls, we provide the families of 112 poor children with
monthly monetary support to help their parents provide
them with a life suitable for normal childhood.

In addition, we provide each year about 1000 pairs of
shoes to school children and also provide them with
school supplies to encourage them to remain in school
and continue their education.

As for the elderly, we visit them and check on their
conditions, and help them to live the rest of their
lives in comfort and hope. In Basrah there is an "old
people's home" operated by the government. We help
provide clothes and supplies and prepare to take to them
all meals one day each week.

For a number of poor families that have no income
whatsoever, we provide a monthly income and a place to
live for those that are homeless.

In addition to all of these humanitarian and social
projects, we have recently been faced with a major
construction project. We have to make major repairs to
our cathedral where the roof had fallen two years ago.
We also built an orphanage for girls and opened
workshops for young people to work and provide them with
income. And it is our hope to construct a housing
project for families with low income and the homeless.

Our reliance is on God and from God we request help.

August 18, 2002,     Archbishop Gabriel Kassab


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