NEW YORK (AP) - A group of American religious leaders called this week for an end to U.N. sanctions against Iraq and said a U.S.-British plan to amend them would do little to alleviate the Iraqi people's suffering.
A letter to President Bush signed by 10 religious groups and 30 leaders, including nine Roman Catholic bishops, said the plan falls painfully short. What's needed, and what the plan forbids, the group said, is foreign investment to address Iraq's massive unemployment, hyperinflation, widespread poverty and failing infrastructure.
The U.S.-British proposal aims to permit a greater flow of civilian goods into Iraq, while tightening an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations (news - web sites) after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The U.N. Security Council agreed Friday to extend a humanitarian program in Iraq for 30 days, giving Washington and London more time to sell their plan to other council members.
Iraq also has criticized the proposal saying it wouldn't help the Iraqi people.
In a report to the Security Council last week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) said Iraq in recent months has not used all the money available to it under the oil-for-food program - established in 1996 to allow Iraq to sell oil for humanitarian goods.
The religious leaders, who include Christians, Jews and Muslims, urged Bush to consider instead a policy of encouraging large-scale capital investment to ``rehabilitate Iraq's shattered economy.''
The U.S.-British plan ``doesn't do anything to allow Iraq to rebuild its infrastructure,'' said Thomas Gumbleton, a Catholic bishop who signed the letter. ``If you can imagine, what would Germany have been like without the Marshall Plan?''
The coalition further recommends an embargo on weapon sales to Iraq and to its neighbors to meet a U.N. goal of ``establishing in the Middle East a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction.''
Another signer, Rabbi Douglas E. Krantz, said the sanctions are ``immoral, impractical and ineffective.'' The more difficult, but moral path is constructive engagement, he said.
``When you see the faces of Iraqi children, you realize (the sanctions are) not in anybody's best interest,'' said Krantz, who has traveled to Iraq. ``How has a rise in child poverty and illiteracy made the world safer from (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein".
Among the signers to the letter are the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Baptist Peace Fellowship, the American Muslim Council, the Methodist Federation for Social Action and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.