A message to the Iraqi National Assembly

The following are remarks given by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who headed a delegation to Iraq. Rahall gave this speech on Sept. 15. It is reprinted here courtesy of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

I want to thank you for the traditional Iraqi hospitality that our delegation has received since coming to Baghdad.

We are all aware of the grave crisis presently facing our two countries, the United States and Iraq. I am concerned about the effects that a new war would have on both our countries. For that reason I come as an advocate of peace through dialogue.

Ours is a humanitarian mission. I come, not as the Secretary of State, and not as a weapons inspector, but as a member of Congress concerned with peace. Basically, I want America and Iraq to give peace a chance.

A few days ago, the former head of the United Nations oil-for-food program, Denis Halliday, commented on the independent American delegation of which I am a part. Mr. Halliday is a former U.N. Assistant Secretary General. On September 12, he said: “Any dialogue between the U.S. and Iraq is good and, with current and former lawmakers, it is even better.” Mr. Halliday added: “Open-minded dialogue would prove war to be unnecessary.”

Instead of assuming that war must come, let us find ways to discover how to prove that war is unnecessary.

A key to this terrible box that we’re now locked in – is dialogue.

I would also like to quote Edward Peck, an American diplomat who is a former chief of mission to Iraq. Mr. Peck pointed out: “You lose nothing when you talk, but the failure to do so in this case may cost us dear(ly).”

Mr. Peck encouraged this delegation from the United States, which includes: former United States Senator James Abourezk; James Jennings, president of Conscience International; and Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

We are here to try and help open doors. Doors to genuine dialogue.

It is time and, in my opinion, far past time, that American and Iraqi officials talk to each other without threats.

We want to open doors to possibilities that will protect life instead of maiming and killing.

Doors that will give peace a chance.

We’ve had far too much heated rhetoric between our two countries. Another war in this region would be greatly damaging. Any new war would be a war against public health, and also against the environment.

Iraq is the cradle of civilization. We do not wish to see civilization strangled in its cradle.

Iraq was once the Garden of Eden. Humanity must not turn the Garden of Eden into Hell.

The evidence from the last war is quite compelling:

* degradation of the infrastructure;

* a wrecked economy;

* shocking escalation of infant mortality and communicable disease, and many other negative health indicators for the entire population.

We do not wish to see this devastation repeated.

In this context, I am reminded of what Dwight Eisenhower, the great U.S. general and president, once said: “Every gun and rocket that is fired, every warship launched, signifies, in a final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

Our delegation does not want to see a new war in Iraq. We do not subscribe to the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis which foresees nothing but war between the predominantly Islamic countries and the West.

I hope that my colleagues in the United States Congress will perceive that peaceful dialogue is a more fruitful avenue than the awful road of perpetual warfare.

I must say, however, that I believe the first step to restoring a relationship of mutual friendship and respect must be for Iraq to fully comply with United Nations mandates by allowing the return of weapons inspectors. That step would at least give pause to the crisis that threatens to engulf us.

Then, over the next weeks and months, the participation of the international community may have an opportunity to succeed in defusing the crisis altogether. Perhaps this could be done by finding a combination of specific nations not directly involved in the dispute to serve as “honest brokers.” Perhaps, for instance, Canada and South Africa.

But time is now terribly short to reverse the momentum toward war. To make that reversal possible, Iraq must cooperate by giving U.N. weapons inspectors unfettered access. And in that process, “honest brokers” and the U.N. as an institution must proceed differently than UNSCOM did, so that next time there will be no abuses, and there will be no misuse of U.N. inspectors for espionage (as belatedly admitted by U.S. officials themselves and authoritatively reported by The New York Times and other media outlets in early January of 1999). If this work proceeds properly, Iraq will be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Then the sanctions, which have done so much damage to your economy, infrastructure, and health can once and for all be lifted.

The Middle East, and Iraq in particular, is a place of enduring cultural richness. It is the home of the world’s oldest civilizations. Iraq has bequeathed to the world three great religious traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This is our heritage, and the world’s heritage.

The Christian scriptures say “Blessed are the peacemakers.” They do not say “Blessed are the warmongers.” I happen to believe that the vast majority of the American people do not want to wage war, but would rather wage peace.

Our delegation is here on behalf of peace. We believe that a new war is not only unnecessary, but wrong.

I must again emphasize, however, that in my view and in the view of many of my colleagues, the way to avoid war and to secure peace is to allow U.N. inspectors into Iraq. The matter is urgent, and I therefore urge your government to implement all relevant Security Council resolutions without delay.

Speaking personally, I will encourage my colleagues in the Congress to enter into dialogue with the Iraq National Assembly for the future benefit of both our nations.