Peace-building needed in Iraq

Published February 1, 1999

Archbishop Michael Peers has spoken out against the recent military strikes by the United States and Britain in Iraq, urging the Canadian government to use its influence to seek alternatives.

His statement, released Dec. 23, was blunter than those issued a couple of days earlier by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Presiding Bishop of the United States.

While Archbishop Peers said the “intransigence of the Iraqi leadership in refusing to allow United Nations weapons inspectors to complete their mandate is of deep concern,” he added that “military intervention is no solution. It promises to lead Iraq into still greater intractability.”

He noted that eight years of sanctions and military actions have not produced a more just or peaceable society in Iraq.

“Experienced soldiers understand that military action is a last resort, and I do not believe that this situation calls for that,” the archbishop said in his statement. “If we seek peace, if we seek to unseat governments which wage terrorism and intimidate both their own citizens and other nations, we need to find alternatives which are by their nature peace-building rather than death-dealing.”

A joint statement issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey and the Archbishop of York, David Hope, noted that they had been in touch with the British government to express concern for the safety of civilians “who now find themselves caught up in a conflict which the leadership in Iraq has had the means to avoid.”

They added that “it is especially important that those in power have clear objectives and well-defined limits for the course of action on which they have embarked.”

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said: “The Iraqi government’s refusal to co-operate with United Nations arms inspectors and the U.S. decision to bomb Iraq, remind us how far we are from a season of reconciliation and peace … I would call on our government and the United Nations to reassess current policies with Iraq and to see what alternatives might better serve the cause of peace and end this long nightmare for millions of innocent Iraqis.”

Bishop Griswold planned to ask the executive council of the Episcopal Church to help find a more compassionate and just response, noting that the deaths of more than half a million children from the effects of sanctions demonstrate a failure of moral leadership, both in Iraq and by the international community.

Archbishop Peers, in his statement, urged the Canadian government to use its position on the Security Council of the United Nations to press for the development of international conventions on sanctions that parallel the 1949 Geneva conventions on the conduct of war. The sanctions imposed on Iraq have hurt the most vulnerable of citizens, especially children, many thousands of whom have died from malnutrition and disease, he said.

The Primate noted the Canadian government applied sanctions against South Africa during apartheid in such a way to ensure they would cause the least amount of pain to the oppressed and be most effective against the oppressors.

“An international commitment to the scope and employment of sanctions, as well as the minimization of the pain of civilians could provide a way forward when dealing with outlaw leaaders,” he said.

Archbishop Peers also proposed examining how the newly approved International Criminal Court might serve as an alternative to military intervention. “The court is a potential force for peace in that it would uphold the rule of law over that of military might,” he said.

“I cannot support this latest attack, nor can I conceive of supporting the use of military force in similar circumstances in the future,” he concluded in urging Anglicans to pray for all sides in the conflict.


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