The leader of an American church “humanitarian mission” to Baghdad urged the Bush administration to negotiate with Iraq to avert a war that would harm innocent people and increase the risk of terrorism.

“We think we can win without war,” said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the U.S. National Council of Churches, according to the Associated Press. “The inspectors are here. They are inspecting. Let them do their work.”

The 13-member delegation was not in Baghdad to critique U.S. administration policy on Iraq, an NCC media contact told WND on Tuesday.

However, Edgar said at a news conference in the Iraqi capital yesterday that, “While the inspections are going on, we would hope that negotiations would also be going on between the two governments.”

Edgar told reporters he expected after the group’s return to the U.S. today to meet with Bush administration officials and members of Congress to press for a peaceful solution.

A mainline church group in Washington that monitors the NCC urged Edgar on Tuesday to cancel his trip to Iraq, calling it “ill considered and dangerous.”

“Such a visit by senior U.S. church officials already on record as strongly opposed to any U.S. military action can only give encouragement to Saddam Hussein and his supporters,” said Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The four-day itinerary included visits to schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and humanitarian aid agencies, the NCC said.

Making his case against war, Edgar said yesterday that in the U.S. “we see often pictures of the leadership of Iraq and the government of Iraq in very negative terms. We rarely see the picture that we saw of children and women and those that will be most severely impacted if (a) war began.”

“The food rations, for example, do not provide an adequate diet and we discovered that the failure of nutrition is a terrible and painful aspect of life here in Iraq,” said Edgar, according to Reuters.

United Nations sanctions have been in place since the 1991 Gulf War, but in December 1996, the U.N. allowed Baghdad to sell oil to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies for its people.

Edgar said it would be difficult to prevent a conflict because “the rhetoric of the governments of both the United States and Iraq lean in the direction of war,” according to the Associated Press, but added, “We believe there is a chance to move back from the brink of war. I’m optimistic that we have time.”

‘Imperialist designs’

The NCC delegation met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on Tuesday and asked “pointed questions” about the human rights situation in Iraq,” according to an NCC statement.

“We want to be clear with the American people and the Iraqi government that we do not support authoritarian governments,” the group said.

In a meeting with a group of anti-war European activists today, Aziz accused the U.S. of “imperialist designs,” according to the BBC.

Aziz said the U.S. was planning to invade regardless of what the inspectors did in an attempt to seize control of Iraq’s oil resources.

“They didn’t say ‘let us wait for a while for the result of the inspection and then let’s decide what to do,'” Aziz said.

“When they continue their preparations for the war of aggression, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that they are genuinely afraid of an imaginary Iraqi threat,” he told the activists. “It means that they have an imperialist design. That design is to invade Iraq, to occupy Iraq and use the national resources of Iraq for the purposes of … the American capitalist regime.”

A report by CNN from Baghdad yesterday showed Aziz addressing a Spanish peace delegation.

Aziz said, “This war is going to cost millions of dollars to the American budget; those billions of dollars will be lost. They will not go to make any benefit to the American people, to the American, ordinary American citizen, and the results of the gains of the war will not go, also, to the ordinary American citizens. It will go to the rich capitalists who are supporting this imperialist policy.”

Introducing a clip of Edgar’s news conference, CNN correspondent Rym Brahimi said the comments by Aziz were “echoed by another group of U.S. religious leaders visiting Iraq.”

“We believe the entire region, including Israel and the United States, will be at greater risk of terrorism if war takes place,” Edgar said.

CNN’s Brahimi concluded: “With more than a dozen groups making the case for peace in Iraq in recent months, this is exactly the kind of message that Baghdad hopes will find some resonance in Washington, as it calls on the international community to resist a push for war.”

‘Win without war’

Edgar is part of a broad coalition of leaders of religious and civic organizations that launched a movement in December called “Keep America Safe: Win Without War.”

In a statement, the group said it “will seek to bring the case of alternative action to stop Iraqi militarism without resorting to American militarism.”

Edgar was listed as the contact person in a full-page ad in the New York Times Dec. 4, with the headline, “President Bush: Jesus changed your heart. Now let him change your mind.”

The producers of the ad, calling themselves “Religious Leaders for Sensible Priorities,” said, “President Bush, we beseech you to turn back from the brink of war on Iraq. Your war would violate the teachings of Jesus Christ. It would violate the tenets, prayers and entreaties of your own United Methodist Church bishops.”

The religious leaders said a pre-emptive war “would ignore the pleas of hundreds of Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders. You’ve proclaimed the crucial role of your faith in your life, and you’ve said that people of faith are often ‘our nation’s voice of conscience.’ Listen to our voices now.”

The ad quotes the general secretary of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, James Winkler, who said, “It is inconceivable that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and the Prince of Peace, would support this proposed attack.”

Winkler was a member of the delegation in Iraq this week.

Along with Winkler and Edgar, the group included Dr. Huw Anwyl, minister, United Churches of Christ; Rev. Ray Buchanan, president, Stop Hunger Now and United Methodist minister; Rev. John Buehrens, former president, the Unitarian Universalist Association; Rev. Dr. Robert Evans, executive director, Plowshares Institute, Presbyterian pastor; Robin Hoeker, legislative assistant, Unitarian Universalist Association; Dr. Victor Makari, General Assembly staff, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Don Mosley, co-founder of Jubilee Partners; Ginger Paul, Episcopal Church, executive committee; Dr. Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab Politics, Georgetown University; Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, United Methodist Church; and host Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, general secretary, Middle East Council of Churches.

Related story:

Anti-war U.S. church leaders
in Baghdad

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.