Over the course of the last twelve months the Church of England's House of Bishops, concerned by the rapidly deteriorating situation between the international community and Iraq, has sought to raise those ethical and moral issues that need to be addressed before any final decision is taken as to the use of military force. These concerns were previously set out in its 9 October 2002 submission to the Foreign affairs select Committee's ongoing inquiry into the war against terrorism. This submission concluded that while military action can sometimes be justified as a last resort to enforce United Nations Security council resolutions, to undertake a preventative war against Iraq at this juncture would be to lower the threshold for war unacceptably. The House of bishops at its meeting in Leeds has today issued the following statement on Iraq:
We believe that the Government's stated policy of disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction is best pursued by facilitating and strengthening the work of UN weapons inspectors. It is crucial that this process be allowed to run its course. To launch military action while there remains the potential to secure a peaceful resolution would be ill-judged and premature.
We continue to hold that a conclusive case has yet to be made in favour of military action against Iraq. We do not believe the evidence presented to date suggests a clear link exists between Iraq and Al Qaeda or that Iraq poses an immediate threat to international security. Without compelling new evidence to the contrary, we contend that military action could not be morally justified.
It is vital that, however the current crisis unfolds, the UK government should seek the maximum support of the international community, working within the framework of the United Nations. We urge all nations to give the weapons inspectors the full co-operation, resources and information they need. We call on Iraq to present credible evidence to support its claim that it does not possess Weapons of Mass Destruction.
We believe that it is vital that proper focus and attention is given in any event to ensuring that the basic humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people are met and that a clear path is constructed for the swift and effective return of Iraq and its people, who have long suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein, to a rightful place in the community of nations.
In seeking to resolve this crisis we call on the international community to provide the basis for a lasting and just peace in the region by taking all necessary steps to revitalise the Middle East Peace Process, based on the twin principles of a secure Israel and a viable Palestinian state.
At a time of widespread suspicion and insecurity we urge the government and the media to avoid the use of language or rhetoric which might cast this crisis in religious terms or contribute to extremist and exclusivist attitudes. We will continue to work with other faith leaders, both here and overseas, to strengthen the bonds of community relations and cohesion at this difficult time.
We return to our dioceses determined in Christ to call on all members of the Church of England to engage with people of faith to pray for the world and for those entrusted with the grave responsibility of taking decisions which will have immense, widespread and unpredictable consequences not only for Iraq and the Gulf region but for us all.
By Albert H. Lee