Three years after war, 'Iraq is worse'

02 November 2006

THE third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, on 19 March 2003, has occasioned a fresh wave of concern for the country's future.

Oliver Birch, manager of Christian Aid's Iraq programme, believes that the reconstruction process has stalled. Speaking on the BBC's Today programme on Tuesday, he described much of the country as affected by "chronic violence and crime", and voiced the difficulty of predicting a future that would not include civil war or even partition.

"Quality-of-life indicators in most centres are no higher than or even below the sanctions period just before the coalition intervened in 2003, and that would include indicators like infant mortality, malnutrition, and water supply," he said. "In some areas, local and even national government is widely affected by corruption, probably to a greater extent even than in the Ba'athist time."

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Frank Griswold, declared himself "deeply grieved at the ongoing tragedy and the continuing loss of life". The Bishop, who at the start of the conflict predicted a "cycle of violence and retaliation", said unilateral military action had undermined US efforts to create a more secure and stable world.

He concluded: "I continue to believe that the commitment to peace shared by the three great faith traditions who call the region holy is the only way to bring security and stability to the world God sent his Son to save."

Estimates of Iraqi dead - since President Bush's announcement on 1 May 2003 that major combat operations had ended - vary between 30,000 and 100,000. The Iraq Body Count project, which tracks deaths from media reports, and uses statistics from the main Baghdad morgue, says the total number of civilians killed has risen each year since that date.

It estimates 6331 killed between 1 May 2003 and 19 March 2004; 11,312 between 20 March 2004 and 19 March 2005; and 12,617 between 20 March 2005 and 1 March 2006. A CNN count puts coalition deaths at 2519, including 103 British.

The Christian People's Alliance Party had not changed its view that the invasion was "illegal, unwise, and immoral", its president, Peter Flower, said this week. He described the estimated £4-billion cost of the war so far as a "stupendous waste". Iraqi civilians quoted by Christian Peacemaker Teams this week blame the coalition for the divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

But Canon Andrew White, who has spent six years in Iraq as the Archbishop of Canterbury's special representative, said that only by taking the inter-religious issues seriously would the situation be changed.

He spoke this week after attending a conference of rabbis and imams in Spain. "What was obvious in discussion with the Islamic leaders", he said, "was that there are really only two subjects on their agenda, Palestine and Iraq. . . The Islamic delegation came from all around the world, yet their concerns were the same."

With funding, an inter-religious council can be established, he said, but it would have to meet outside Iraq. "It is simply too dangerous. We need to take the key religious leaders out of the country and deal with these issues."

Canon White has not changed his belief that the war was justified, despite the chaos that followed. "Saddam's regime was the ultimate in evil. I was there before the war; I saw the evil."

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