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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
Archbishops' Iraq letter in full
Dear Prime Minister,

During their annual meeting earlier this month, the bishops of the Church of England discussed recent developments in Iraq and the Middle East.

It was the wish of those present that we should write to you to put on record a number of the points made during the discussion.

At the same time as we were meeting, the United Nations Security Council unanimously endorsed Resolution 1546.

We warmly welcome the clear international consensus this now expresses on the importance of the transfer of sovereignty to a transitional Iraqi government.

There are bound to be further testing times before elections can be held there and the future arrangements for governance established.

Sustaining a wide measure of international support, under the auspices of the United Nations, should be a key objective during this period.

We believe that the priority now must be to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their own country after many years of oppression and hardship.

The establishment and maintenance of the rule of law are clearly prerequisites for stability and eventual prosperity.

Yet, the credibility of coalition partners in advocating respect for the law and the peaceful resolution of disputes will, we fear, be undermined unless the necessary moral authority is clearly demonstrated at every level.

It is all the more important and challenging as a task when murderous and arbitrary violence, which we condemn utterly, is being used against westerners and others in Iraq.

It is clear that the apparent breach of international law in relation to the treatment of Iraqi detainees has been deeply damaging.

The appearance of double standards inevitably diminishes the credibility of Western governments with the people of Iraq and of the Islamic world more generally.

More fundamentally still, there is a wider risk to our own integrity if we no longer experience a sense of moral shock at the enormity of what appears to have been inflicted on those who were in the custody of western security forces.

We welcome the assurances of the British and American authorities about their determination to establish the facts and bring those responsible to justice.

Nevertheless, there remain serious questions over how such brutal and indecent behaviour could have come about.

Since September 11, 2001, the moral case for making counter-terrorism capabilities more effective has not been in doubt.

This needs, however, to be achieved in a way that avoids any perception that the commitment of Western governments¿ to internationally agreed standards on the treatment of detainees is diminished.

Perceptions can be as important as the reality in terms of the signals which they send to members of the security forces about what constitutes acceptable conduct.

We cannot afford to be other than tenacious in our commitment to the Geneva Convention and other relevant international agreements.

Among Muslim and Arab opinion another litmus test of our respect both for human rights and for international agreements is our stance on the continuing Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

It is of course a matter of historical record that UN Security Council Resolution 242 - the reference point for all attempts to provide a settlement since 1967 - was a British proposal.

The terms of an eventual settlement must, ultimately, be for the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.

Nevertheless, British willingness down the years to respect the legitimate interests of both sides in the conflict has previously enabled our representatives, in partnership with others, to be accepted on both sides as honest brokers.

It is vitally important that this position is not eroded.

International tensions have undoubtedly been exacerbated by attempts to cast many problems in crude terms of religious confrontation, most obviously between Muslims and Christians.

In calling on the government to take the necessary action to counter these perceptions we accept that we too have a part to play.

Many of us have been working with Islamic leaders in our own communities, nationally and indeed internationally, to build greater trust and mutual understanding wherever they are threatened.

Within the wider Christian community we also have theological work to do to counter those interpretations of the Scriptures from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land.

The need for resolve and determination in the face of terrorism is not in doubt.

Nor is the need to nurture greater understanding between religious communities and promote religious freedom.

In our view the way forward is give a lead in showing that respect for human dignity, the rule of law and religious freedom are indivisible.

As a new chapter opens in Iraq and as the search continues for an end to the present cycle of violence in the Middle East, we urge our government to keep these principles at the heart of its own policy making.

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