ER=Emergency relief

International | The embattled Franklin Graham sends aid to Iraq despite a welter of hand-wringing over what it will do to Muslim-Christian relations

Issue: "Supreme warning," July 5, 2003

Diar Ali's emergency room has eight vinyl beds with no sheets. Green curtains hang limp between the beds, a fig's leaf of privacy for the Shiite women who arrive heavily veiled.

This hospital is one of the biggest in Baghdad, but it's never had the reputation for being one of the best. Private hospitals, like the Catholic hospital in East Baghdad, are more prestigious. And favorites of Saddam's former inner circle, like Olympic Hospital, run by his son Uday, catered only to the rich and favored. In prewar days Olympic routinely imported specialists from France.

Shoddy facilities did not prevent locals from overwhelming Dr. Ali's government-run facility during the war. It became a reception center-and a dumping ground-for Baghdad's dead and wounded. The neighborhood that surrounds it saw some of the worst bombardment; U.S. forces dropped four bunker-busters in April not far away at a restaurant where they believed Saddam was meeting.

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The hospital itself was hit directly by shells, completely destroying the third floor of one building in the complex. Residents looted furniture. Wards operated without desks, chairs, and gurneys. Still, doctors accepted wounded and, when the water ran out, moved from patient to patient with no way to wash blood from their hands. Volunteers buried corpses in the courtyard-up to 20 one day-because there was nowhere else to move them.

Olympic already has received a postwar makeover from a wealthy Gulf state sheikh. But in West Baghdad, Dr. Ali's 1,200-bed facility continues to clock 24-hour shifts with doctors who typically are paid $20 a month and who perform X-rays out of a single room using rusted equipment.

Dr. Ali and his colleagues hope the days of both battle and hardship will soon be a memory. A hefty shipment of supplies and equipment arrived on June 23-a bequest from Samaritan's Purse, the also-embattled relief organization headed by Franklin Graham.

Mr. Graham sent a team of medical specialists to Baghdad last week, led by Lebanese pastor Sami Dagher, a fellow evangelist and longtime friend. Both team and equipment flew from Dubai to Baghdad in a chartered cargo jet to avoid the banditry that continues to plague relief convoys traveling overland from Jordan. They carried enough equipment to outfit four operating rooms of the hospital, including new X-ray machines and emergency-room supplies. Samaritan's Purse technicians, along with Mr. Dagher, remained in Baghdad through the week to install the equipment and train Iraqi staff and doctors in how to use it. Mr. Graham said, in a special mailing to donors, the shipment represents "one of the largest medical projects in our history."

Although Mr. Graham made his first trip to Baghdad 30 years ago, few now champion his relief work in Iraq.

Comments now 20 months old calling Islam "a very evil and wicked religion" made him an outlaw not only with politically correct internationalists but also with mainstream evangelicals (who say it's made reaching out to Muslims more difficult).

Those statements, critics said, disqualify him from working in a country that is 97 percent Muslim. "Groups like Franklin's exploit vulnerable people under the guise of humanitarian relief," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Mr. Hooper said the Bush administration should not allow Samaritan's Purse into Iraq. It "will confirm suspicions in the Muslim world that this is really a war against Islam," he said.

Dozens of faith-based groups already had stockpiled supplies in Iraqi border states to help the needy, once U.S. forces gave the all-clear. The sudden publicity forced many to retool their strategy for serving. Despite the reputation for fairness most must keep to work in the Muslim world, their record was less important than their religious label.

Dominant-media journalists suddenly discovered that such groups might actually believe the mission statements they labor under. "Should Christian Missionaries Heed the Call in Iraq?" read a five-column-wide headline in The New York Times on April 6. The Washington Post headlined an April 15 editorial blasting Mr. Graham, "Evangelize Elsewhere."

Evangelical conservatives, too, voiced concern that Mr. Graham's comments went too far. They launched a series of meetings in Washington to debate the role of Christian workers in Muslim countries. Mike Cromartie, vice president of Ethics and Public Policy Center, opened one event last month with several references to Mr. Graham's "unfortunate" remarks. Conservative columnist and NPR commentator Joe Loconte labeled Mr. Graham's remarks "clumsy criticism." Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told a similar meeting May 7, "We must temper our speech.... There has to be a way to do good works without raising alarms."


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