By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online
The Archbishop of Canterbury says alternative ways of disarming Iraq have still to be tried before any resort to war.
The Archbishop was speaking in London
Speaking at Lambeth Palace ahead of his investiture as archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams said the Christian position would be against war unless all efforts to avoid it had been exhausted.
He accepted a moral case could be made for intervening to protect the Iraqi people, but questioned whether military action would improve their situation, and asked what would happen to them after any conflict.
On Thursday the archbishop and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, issued a joint statement calling for continued weapons inspections which they said could avert the need for military action.
On Friday, Dr Williams said that until all non-military avenues had been explored it would be very hard to justify war.
He said there was deep fear in the Middle East over the likely repercussions of war.
Both church leaders had expressed doubts over the "moral legitimacy" of an attack on Iraq.
They believe the weapons inspections could render war unnecessary and warned of the "unpredictable humanitarian and political consequences" of combat.
Speaking on Friday, Dr Williams said he was worried about the way Western nations were reacting to terrorism.
He was speaking ahead of his enthronement next week as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.
You've got to watch out about bringing in the heavy artillery of religion - it would be very dangerous to paint this as a Christian crusade against Islam
He is the senior figure in the church of England, and also heads the 70m-strong worldwide Anglican Communion.
He told BBC News Online: "There are other ways to disarm Iraq apart from war.
"There could be a sustained United Nations presence as part of a containment policy."
He said most people agreed the sanctions applied to Iraq had caused problems.
"But you could have continuing weapons inspections. It doesn't look as if we've exhausted those possibilities yet," he added.
Dr Williams told one questioner: "We recognised that self-defence is always the primary reason for war, and even then can be only a last resort.
"Unless you've exhausted everything else, it's very hard to justify it."
He said no war was "holy and good - it's always a damage-limitation exercise".
Dr Williams said he was in regular touch with church leaders in the Middle East, and his concerns were "very sharp indeed".
"There's a great fear among them that attacking Iraq could have a domino effect," he said.
"That's the moral worry."
He said he was also concerned at the way Western countries had reacted to the threat of terrorism.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor spoke out with the archbishop
They could react in ways that served to weaken and diminish their own societies, he suggested.
The archbishop also insisted that the Iraq crisis should not be seen in religious terms.
He said: "You've got to watch out about bringing in the heavy artillery of religion. It would be very dangerous to paint this as a Christian crusade against Islam."
He avoided explicitly criticising the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who has claimed there is a moral case for attacking Iraq, or President George W. Bush.
And asked about Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's defence of a moral case for war, he said the morality issue should be directed at the people of Iraq.
The key disagreements were whether military action would make the situation in Iraq worse for the people, and what would happen to them in the aftermath of a conflict, he said.
He left no doubt he still thinks the case for a war with moral legitimacy has not been made.
Dr Williams, who was formerly archbishop of Wales, said his enthronement would mark "the beginning of the real job ... seeking not primarily a public voice to comment on public affairs, but a way of deepening and enriching people's faith".