As war begins, CWS accelerates longstanding relief to Iraqis

New York City - With the launching of U.S. military action against Iraq, one of the world's leading humanitarian agencies announced its intention to accelerate its longstanding relief services to the people of Iraq, voicing concerns over projected humanitarian toll on the Iraqi people. The statement reflects CWS' position, prior to the beginning of military action, against pre-emptive war with Iraq.

In a statement issued today, Church World Service Executive Director John L. McCullough announced that, "At this time we grieve for those who are having to endure additional sufferings. We are keenly aware of the fact that, for many of the people of Iraq, this war comes at the end of what has already been twelve years of severe human conditions," causing "the loss of loved ones, particularly children. . . . It is our hope that any warfare within this region will come to a quick conclusion, and that loss of life and limb will be minimized."

"I encourage all people of faith," McCullough urged, "to uphold in thought and prayer the people of Iraq, all those persons serving in the armed forces, and the leaders of our nation, so that they may be guided by the wisdom of God and by a true commitment to peace with justice, as embodied by Christ."

Concerning Church World Service's response during the conflict, McCullough said, the agency has "for many years had an established and ongoing partnership in providing humanitarian services to the people of Iraq. We will continue that commitment and presence. . . . We will respond on the basis of human need, either directly or working through our established partners in the region, including the Middle East Council of Churches."

CWS will also assess the situation and needs of Iraqi people who may be fleeing to neighboring countries and says the organization and its partners would respond through infrastructures already in place, particularly in Jordan.

McCullough made clear, however, that "Church World Service's humanitarian assistance should not be seen as acquiescence to the war."

"Our work in Iraq is a continuation of a long term commitment to assisting the most vulnerable," explains the agency's Director of Emergency Response Programs Rick Augsburger. Since the Gulf War, CWS has maintained an ongoing commitment to the Iraqi people and has continued to provide UN-sanctioned medical supplies and provisions, particularly focused on children.

The 56-year-old agency is responding through its long-time partner, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), which has addressed its capacities in Iraq and neighboring countries. Some relief supplies were positioned in Iraq and Jordan just prior to the war. CWS has already airlifted 4,500 blankets, valued at $19,170, to MECC in Amman Jordan.

Church World Service also announced today the issuance of a new $1.5 million appeal ($1,552,569) to help fund humanitarian response to Iraq. Appeal funds are designated for use and implementation by the agency's on the ground partner The Middle East Council of Churches.

This campaign extends CWS' ongoing fundraising and supply provision efforts. The agency has provided some $3 million in the last five years for humanitarian assistance in Iraq. In addition, CWS recently entered into a multi-agency coalition campaign called All Our Children, created to provide for the medical and health needs of Iraqi children which have been greatly exacerbated by wars and more than a decade of trade sanctions. That appeal for $1 million was expanded in February.

CWS depends heavily on contributions from private, public and ecumenically-based fundraising and has said it will not accept U.S. government funding for the initial emergency phase of the current Iraq conflict.

Prior to the war, CWS stated deep concerns over the U.S. government's "embedded humanitarian response" strategy announced for the early days of the war and what, from initial government information, was characterized as insufficient preparedness.

Alluding to the neutral position and trust traditionally held for humanitarian aid relief workers, Augsburger commented, "That control over reconstruction and humanitarian activities in Iraq has been placed with the Department of Defense flies in the face of humanitarian principles."

Church World Service is an international humanitarian agency and ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations, working in partnership with local organizations in more than 80 countries to support sustainable self-help and development, meet emergency needs, aid refugees, and address the root causes of poverty and powerlessness.

John McCullough spent five days in Iraq at the end of January, as member of a humanitarian research mission to Baghdad, sponsored by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).


Carol Fouke/New York
Phone: (212) 870-2252/2227

Jan Dragin/New York & Boston
Phone: (781) 925-1526;