- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

The trip that three Democratic congressmen made to Baghdad last week was jointly funded by two private organizations a religious group and a charity, both of which oppose a war with Iraq.
The costs were shared by the Interfaith Network of Concern for the People of Iraq, a project of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, and a charity in Southfield, Mich., called Life for Relief and Development (LIFE), which provides humanitarian aid to Iraq.
"We definitely want a peaceful solution," LIFE spokesman Mohammed Alomari said in an interview.
He added: "We're working together on the humanitarian aspects [of Iraqs problems] with the Church Council of Greater Seattle. They, too, have concerns and are trying to avoid a war. They want to see what kind of political settlement can be made."
Seattle is the home of Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, while Michigan is the home state of Democratic Rep. David E. Bonior, two of the three lawmakers who visited Iraq on a peace mission. The congressmen caused a stir by urging an end to economic sanctions, a return of United Nations weapons inspectors into Iraq and by questioning President Bush's honesty about the need for war.
In appearances on Sunday news talk shows, Mr. McDermott and Mr. Bonior spoke of Iraqi officials' cooperation and said top Iraqi leaders had promised arms inspectors would have unconditional access to suspected weapons sites.
The third Democratic congressman who went to Baghdad Rep. Mike Thompson of California noted the suffering of the Iraqi people brought on by their leader, Saddam Hussein. The lawmakers returned to Washington late Tuesday night.
The congressmen were criticized by Republican lawmakers. Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles of Oklahoma derided them, saying on ABC's "This Week" that they sounded like "spokespersons for the Iraqi government."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said the congressmen "should come home," after Mr. McDermott challenged the administration's attempts to link Iraq to the al Qaeda terrorist network and suggested Mr. Bush would lie to bring about military conflict.
"What happened to separation of church and state, which Democrats usually insist on?" asked a Bethesda woman, who called Mr. McDermott's Capitol Hill office Tuesday and was shocked to find out that a "private religious group" helped pay for the congressmen's trip.
Mark Tooley, director of the United Methodist action committee for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which he describes as a "watchdog of [protestant] mainline churches," said it's "interesting but not surprising" that the Church Council of Greater Seattle sent the lawmakers to Iraq to speak out against military action.
"Leaders of almost all the mainline churches have spoken out against a war with Iraq and mainline churches in Seattle, Wash., which are among the most liberal, have been among the most outspoken," Mr. Tooley said in an interview.
Alice Woldt, acting executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, said in an interview yesterday: "Yes, we sponsored the trip. If we designated money, it was designated for travel expenses. But none of this came out of our general fund."
An aide to Mr. McDermott, speaking on the condition of anonymity, insisted it's "terribly common" for members of Congress to go on trips financed by religious organizations.
Mr. Alomari said yesterday that LIFE is not a political advocacy group, but a "charitable organization that's strictly concerned with humanitarian issues."
Mr. Alomari said the delegation that went to Baghdad consisted of about 10 people. It included the three congressmen, some representatives of the Church Council of Greater Seattle and Muthanna Al-Hancoli, president of Michigan-based Focus on American and Arab Interests and Relations.

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