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[casi] Church accuses Blair of 'cruel thirst for vengeance'

Telegraph (UK)
March 24, 2002
Church accuses Blair of 'cruel thirst for vengeance'

By Jonathan Petre, Religious Affairs Correspondent

THE Church of England is on a collision course with the Government over
Iraq by producing a report for bishops which argues that an attack on
Saddam Hussein would be immoral and seen as the "cruel thirst for

The report, by the Church's Board for Social Responsibility, says that it
would be difficult to see how Western military action in Iraq could meet
the criteria of being a just war.

Instead, in an implicit criticism of the hardening stance being taken by
Tony Blair, the briefing paper says that calls for such action merely
"reflect the priorities of American foreign policy".

It adds that the Church would also have "grave concerns" about inter-faith
relations in Britain in the wake of an attack on another Muslim country
such as Iraq.

The paper follows Wednesday's warning by Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary,
that Britain would be ready to launch a nuclear strike against states such
as Iraq if they used weapons of mass destruction against British forces.

His words came as officials in Washington and London privately predicted
that military action to topple Saddam was likely at the end of the year.

Although Mr Hoon denied that a decision had been taken on such action, his
comments about nuclear arms fuelled beliefs that preparations were being

The private paper by the Church's board, chaired by the Bishop of
Southwark, the Rt Rev Tom Butler, is not policy but a strong indication of
Church thinking. It says that, for a war to be just, it has to have "proper
authority and right intent".

It continues: "It is difficult to see how either of these have been met in
the case of Iraq." No explicit UN resolution existed that would legitimise
military action, and it was hard to see, given the lack of international
consensus, how this could be achieved.

Although Mr Blair originally played down talk of action against Iraq
because Saddam was not linked to the September 11 attacks, ministers have
since said that such an operation would be justified because Iraq is in
breach of UN resolutions and Gulf war ceasefire agreements.

The paper says: "Although it is important not to understate the potential
threat posed by Iraq, no convincing evidence has been presented to support
the argument that Iraq is rebuilding its WMD [weapons of mass destruction]
programme or that Iraq poses an immediate threat to regional and
international security.
"Instead, the arguments put forward in favour of action reflect the
priorities of American foreign policy. This would be difficult to square
with the Government's interpretation of the legal position. Any such attack
could be perceived as the `cruel thirst for vengeance'.

"An attack on another Muslim country - particularly one with no proven link
to the September 11 atrocities - would be taken by many as evidence of an
in-built hostility to the Islamic world. . . The consequence for
inter-faith relations of an attack on Iraq must therefore be of grave

The paper was dismissed by Ann Widdecombe, the former Tory minister. "If
Saddam is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, it is not vengeance but
self-defence to stop him," she said.

"I don't know where the Church gets its information that he isn't
stockpiling such weapons. Perhaps they get secret intelligence reports
every day?"

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