National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Posted Thursday January 29, 2004 at 6:06 p.m. CST

Iraqis still suffering, says Bishop Gumbleton after visiting Iraq

By Robert Delaney
Catholic News Service

DETROIT -- Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit said Jan. 24 he was "shocked and discouraged" by what he saw on his most recent visit to Baghdad.

"I was overwhelmed with sadness over what is happening to the people of Iraq, and also to the U.S. troops there," said the bishop, who returned to Detroit from an 11-day trip Jan. 22.

With unemployment approaching 60 percent and food supplies dwindling, ordinary Iraqis "are humiliated and feel degraded" as they try to cope without electricity, telephones and -- in some places -- running water, he said.

"Without exception, people said things were worse now than before the war," said Gumbleton, who was an outspoken critic of U.S. military action both before and during the war. It was his seventh trip to Baghdad, his first since the war.

He said U.S. officials live and work in the Coalition Provisional Authority's compound, nicknamed the "Green Zone," and some of their statements about improved conditions make it appear they never get out to see the reality ordinary people experience.

"Inside the Green Zone, they don't know what is going on in the city. Paul Bremer (U.S. administrator) has said electricity has been restored -- well, in the Green Zone, sure, but not in the rest of the city," Gumbleton told The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese.

"They don't know the deprivations the people are putting up with. They don't have jobs. Right now, people are getting the same amount of basic food as they have been getting through the oil-for-food program, but there is the fear that could be running out. The city is just very depressing," he continued.

The bishop and the rest of his group were escorted around Baghdad by two staff members of the American Friends Service Committee, the international relief agency of the Society of Friends (Quakers). They acted as interpreters for the delegation, which also included Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, a photojournalist and a physician's assistant.

They visited three hospitals, delivering medical supplies they had brought. Gumbleton said conditions were worst at the pediatric hospital, where there were shortages of medicines and no new equipment since before the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

He said the two Catholic hospitals, run by the Dominican Sisters, were better equipped, but still in need of supplies.

Conditions were too dangerous for the group to travel to the southern city of Basra, as he had hoped, the bishop added.

He met with Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III. "He was about as upbeat as he could be, but he also said it was not better than it was. The opposite is true; things are getting worse. If the economy doesn't get going pretty soon, I don't know what will happen," Gumbleton said.

On Jan. 17, he and the others attended a demonstration outside the Provisional Authority's compound by squatters protesting efforts to force them to move from the bombed-out building where they have been living. On the following morning, a car bomb went off, killing 31 people and injuring 60-70 more at the same spot they had been the previous afternoon, the bishop said.

Reuters and other news agencies have reported that in addition to the 517 American soldiers who have died since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq there have been an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Iraqi casualties.

Gumbleton said he will urge Americans "to be compassionate and pray for" the Iraqi people. "Then, pressure our government to bring the troops home and allow the people of Iraq to move forward, and to bring other nations into it. We should rebuild that country and give its people a chance," he said.

The bishop said he would like to see the $1 billion a day being used to support the U.S. military presence in Iraq to be diverted to redevelopment efforts.

"The (American troops) we talked to don't understand what they're doing there, and they're always sitting ducks in danger of being killed. They don't speak the language, they don't understand what people are saying all around them, and wouldn't know it if someone were warning them a car bomb was coming at them," he continued.


This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: