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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 25 December, 2002, 05:23 GMT
Church leaders attack war plans
Marines training near the Iraqi border
The Archbishop spoke as troops trained in Kuwait
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is continuing his criticism of politicians over the possibility of a war against Iraq.

In a Christmas message he will use the analogy of the Three Wise Men to mock strategists who, in spite of their sophistication, end up killing innocent people and causing more suffering.

His remarks come as the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales said war against Iraq must not be seen as inevitable, despite growing momentum towards military action.

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams has openly opposed war with Iraq
Celebrating Midnight Mass at Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said that peace on earth was a "permanent commitment" and that efforts to avoid conflict should never end.

On Christmas Eve seven Iraqi children delivered giant Christmas cards signed by thousands of people to Prime Minister Tony Blair, urging him not to go to war.

And in Baghdad Saddam Hussein delivered a rallying Christmas message on Iraqi television, warning that "the forces of evil and darkness" wanted to create instability and chaos in many parts of the world.

Immense mistakes

In his message, to be broadcast shortly after midnight on 26 December on Radio 4, Dr Williams recalls the bible story of the Three Wise Men.

On their way to Bethlehem they tell King Herod of the birth of Jesus, prompting a massacre of children.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor prayed for peace
Dr Williams says it is as if the wise and resourceful cannot help making the most immense mistakes of all.

He has robustly opposed war in Iraq and his Christmas broadcast seems to be intended to build on that theme.

Dr Williams likens the Wise Men to strategists who, despite intimate knowledge of politics, miss obvious things and create more suffering and havoc.

We are, he says, still tangled in the same net, with better communications, intelligence and surveillance, but stepping ever deeper into tragedy.

'Permanent commitment'

During his traditional Christmas service Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor told worshippers: "We must never give up and assume that war is inevitable.

"Let us pray today, therefore, that each one of us, particularly those involved in international diplomacy and politics, will maintain our permanent commitment to building and maintaining peace in our world."

The Archbishop of Westminster's remarks followed calls by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales in November for both sides to "step back from the brink" of war.

They said that Britain had a moral responsibility to avoid war and called for sanctions against Iraq to be lifted as an incentive for Saddam Hussein's regime to improve.

Oil reserves

Delivering the anti-war cards to Downing Street on behalf of the Stop the War Coalition the seven Iraqi children were joined by a brother and sister from Egypt and a Palestinian boy.

Those who follow Satan will go down the precipice of defeat

Saddam Hussein
The cards contained thousands of messages and signatures of British people opposed to the government's backing of President Bush's firm stance against Iraq.

The campaign group argued that Britain and the US are more interested in Iraq's oil reserves than they are in its reputed weapons of mass destruction.

Spokesman Andrew Burgin said: "People are talking about war so blithely at the moment, as if there is no human cost."

Standing on the doorstep of Number 10, Egyptian-born Fatima Mahmoud, 17, from London, warned: "A lot of very innocent children, the same age as those here, will die."

'Aggression'

In his Christmas message Saddam Hussein warned that an "American-Zionist campaign against Iraq is being launched".

He said: "The tone of a threatened, large-scale military aggression against our peace-loving people is growing louder, in addition to the aggression already inflicted and the unjust blockade still in place."

The Iraqi leader said his government was committed to working with the United Nations and the Security Council.

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  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Robert Pigott
"Dr Williams has made no secret of his opposition to war in Iraq"

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See also:

24 Dec 02 | Middle East
20 Dec 02 | Middle East
23 Dec 02 | Middle East
24 Dec 02 | Middle East
25 Dec 02 | Middle East
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