As obscene as it sounds, the United States has discovered a new weapon of mass destruction — one most would never have conceived until the past dozen years or so. That weapon is food — and medicine and other resources needed to live viably — and ground zero is the civilian population of Iraq, which has been devastated by United Nations-chartered sanctions since the end of the Persian Gulf War.

According to UNICEF estimates, more than a million Iraqi civilians have died due to the sanctions or U.S. military action, including as many as 600,000 children.

We should have seen the path we were being led down when the sanctions were introduced, and certainly when two subsequent presidents ignored the call to rescind them. Now that we are aiming our war machine at Iraq again — arguably to finish a job that was abandoned for political expedience in 1991 — the sanctions seem not only cruel but part of an orchestrated effort to decimate the Iraqi people and punish them for the actions of their corrupt dictator.

And it should darken our hearts that we — as believers and as Americans — have stood by for so long as this destruction of a people has been carried out, apparently with the tacit approval of our allies and in defiance of a global cry for mercy. Mercy, though, does not seem to be part of our arsenal anymore — not since the Gulf War and certainly not since Sept. 11.

We should put ourselves in the place of the Iraqi people, and try to imagine the depth of despair their lives in many cases have reached. And when American bombs fall once again on Baghdad, let us count the real cost to the unseen populace below. Though we do not see them, their grief is real.

Theirs is not an ordinary grief, either, but one of an entire people, perhaps even a race — the grief of Gethsemane and the cross. Let us pray then that mercy someday will come — for the people of Iraq and for us who have ignored their suffering.

This column was reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.

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