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Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Iraq crisis divides religious leaders
Bishop of Rochester
The Bishop of Rochester says attack may be justified
Religious leaders have joined the debate on the growing threat of strikes against Iraq, with opinion divided among Anglican clergy.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, believes an attack would be justified if there was "persuasive evidence" that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

However, other religious leaders believe that as a nation, we cannot set out to be "the world's policemen".

The UK's Muslim leaders think it would be a grave mistake to attack Iraq and think Britain should reconsider allying itself with the US.

The Bishop of Rochester said Western leaders had a responsibility to fight terror.


The Middle East is a tinderbox and if we make the wrong judgement at this time it could lead to unimagined consequences

Right Rev Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells
In an article in The Telegraph, he said: "If the government's promised intelligence dossier on Saddam's weapons stockpile proved convincing, then military action would be legitimate self-defence."

Pakistan-born Mr Nazir-Ali said international terrorism was well-funded and Western leaders were right to counter it vigorously.

In a statement released to BBC News Online, a spokesman said: "The Bishop of Rochester, while hoping and praying for greater justice, compassion and peace in our world, is also aware of the international community's need to consider the circumstances in which conflict may be justified.

"While respecting the need for confidentiality in these matters, the Bishop trusts that the government will provide the nation with assurances regarding any evidence which may make military action necessary."

Moral questions

The Bishop of Coventry, the Right Rev Colin Bennetts, is strongly opposed to any military action and says there are no clear moral grounds for an attack.

He was among 3,000 senior Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops to sign a petition organised by Christian peace group Pax Christi, which warned against the "deplorable" threat of war which was "in violation of the ethos of both the United Nations and Christian moral teachings".

"The fact is that the world has many despotic rulers and there are many regimes, Burma is a good example, where their own people are oppressed in horrendous ways," he said.

"But we can't possibly take the decision that we are always right and they're in the wrong and we can't really set out to be the world policemen on that huge, grand scale.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor
Murphy-O'Connor has cautioned against war
"I think we have to have very specific reasons for going into military action against Saddam Hussein at this particular time and I for one remain to be persuaded both that he is a real threat and that he intends to use that threat."

The bishop believes Saddam poses no greater threat now than he did 20 years ago when he was the UK's "staunch ally".

He said: "I think there are serious moral questions about the way in which we supported him then when it suited our purposes and when now apparently it doesn't we have turned against him and decided he must be eliminated."

His fears are echoed by the head of the UK's Roman Catholic Church.

Writing in The Times, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, said a war would possibly set the Arab world against the West.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Revd Peter Price, is urging the government to continue talking to avoid war in Iraq.

'Perilous' road ahead

He said: "The Middle East is a tinderbox and if we make the wrong judgement at this time it could lead to unimagined consequences.

"My continued hope is that the government will support the view that a United Nations response is the most appropriate in the circumstances."

Britain's 1.8 million Muslims are also sceptical about taking military action against Saddam, according to the Muslim Council for Britain (MCB).

MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala said: "UK Muslims are under no illusions as to Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime.


Iraq is run by a brutal dictator, but its power is on the wane

Inayat Bunglawala, Muslim Council for Britain
"But his military capability has been severely degraded in the 12 years since the Gulf War and we don't believe he represents a great danger to the region.

"Iraq is run by a brutal dictator, but its power is on the wane. We don't believe Saddam Hussein poses any reasonable threat."

He said he had no sympathy with the Bishop of Rochester's sentiments.

"Israel has nuclear weapons and has invaded many countries. This is a country that is a danger to the region, not Iraq," he said.

He believes the US is behaving like a sole super-power and the UK should not be associated with it.

"We should have our own individual foreign policy and strengthen our voice in Europe to stand up to the US," he said.

"If we are going to get involved in pre-emptive action by one state acting in a unilateral way, then we are heading down a very perilous road indeed."


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See also:

05 Sep 02 | Politics
04 Sep 02 | Politics
03 Sep 02 | Politics
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