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Help Refugees Created By the Aftermath of the Iraq War

by Mary Ellen Rouen

People have been asking us to write about how the United States should respond to the terrible violence of ISIS, or the Islamic state. The images and examples, of their cruelty, especially towards Christians, are barbaric. There must be a response.

As we have pondered this question, we have been unable to forget some of the roots of the upheaval and violence caused by the Iraq War.

We cannot help but  emphasize the grave responsibility we in the United States have towards the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Iraq and in some other countries in the Middle East. The instability caused by the US attack on Iraq, the removal of its government, and the consequences of years of war have uprooted Christians who had lived peacefully there for many centuries.

The attempt of the US to teach the Iraqi people how to live and govern has not improved their lives, but has led to tragedy and home-lessness for countless families. The least we can do is to receive refugees here and especially help those neighboring countries who have taken in so many who are hoping to return to their homeland some day.

When the war in Iraq began, the United States presented our participation as a part of the “manifest destiny” of the United States to show other nations how to live. It was called nation building. Somehow after the tragic events of 9/11, the war was justified as a response, even though Iraq had had nothing to do with those attacks.

Eventually, the majority of the American people realized that the consequences of the war were not positive for the United States, let alone the Iraqi people.

There are many historical and current factors at work in the present crisis, including divisions in the Muslim communities, but the terrible situation of Christians and other minorities under the Islamic state can be traced back at least in large part to the intervention of the United States in Iraq. One tries to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt, thinking that they may have hoped for a different outcome. Many, however, foresaw the tragedy that might occur and warned us and the world about the consequences.

John Paul II stated before the war began that the Iraq war would be a defeat for humanity which could not be morally or legally justified. He sent his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, a friend of the Bush family, to remonstrate with the U.S. President before the war began. Pio Laghi said such a war would be illegal and unjust. The message was clear: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.

“When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society,” John Paul said. “Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man.” Americans were largely unaware of the depth and importance of the opposition of Church leaders to an attack on Iraq, since for the most part the mainstream media did not carry the stories.

John Paul II sought to distance the Catholic Church from the idea of the “manifest  destiny” of the United States, and sought to avoid the appearance of a clash of Christian civilization against Islam. In one Easter Sunday message John Paul II “implored for the world’s deliverance from the peril of the tragic clash between cultures and religions.” The Pope also sent his message to terrorists: “Let there be an end to the chain of hatred and terrorism which threatens the orderly development of the human family.”

It is discouraging to read various sources who have reported that in trying to manipulate the international power struggles over the years our CIA actually  trained and funded terrorist groups like ISIS in its early years, hoping that it would, for example, assist in unseating Assad in Syria. It has been reported that Osama Bin Laden was also assisted by the CIA in order to counter Russia when it was heavily involved in Afghani-stan before we sent troops there.

Pope Francis: Arms Trade Root of Mideast Suffering

Pope Francis has spoken of the “absurd contradiction” between the international community’s calls for peace, the proliferation of the global arms trade and the lack of attention to the suffering of refugees. “Everyone talks about peace, everyone says they want it but unfortunately the proliferation of all types of arms is leading us in the opposite direction,” Francis told a group of new ambassadors to the Holy See. He said that those who manufacture arms, those who deal in the arms trade, are responsible for much of the suffering.

He blasted the arms manufacturers, stating that people or institutions pro-ducing weapons of war make a profit out of death. They are “merchants of death and make death into a trade,” Pope Francis told the crowds at one of his general audiences, “One day everything will come to an end and they will have to account for themselves before God.”  Like Dorothy Day, Pope Francis questioned whether Christians could work in arms manufacturing.

How to Help

Our responsibilities to the refugees, especially fellow Christians, are great. Our government should help more.

A way to help personally is through Catholic Relief Services. They are working in partnership with Caritas Iraq to support many displaced families from northern Iraq:. They also work with Caritas in other countries in the region which have taken in so many refugees from Iraq and Syria:


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXV, No. 5,  November-December 2014.