THE PRIME Minister was told this week by the Archbishop of Canterbury that it would be “murderous folly” to attack Syria or Iran. Speaking on the BBC, Dr Williams said the UK and the US should instead concentrate on repairing the human damage their war in Iraq had caused.
In an interview on The World Tonight on Radio 4 on Friday, Dr Williams, who had just returned from a visit to Armenia, Syria, and Lebanon, said: “We do hear in some quarters about action against Syria or against Iran. I can’t really understand what planet such persons are living on when you see the conditions that are already there. The region is still a tinderbox.”
There were already 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in the region, he said. Many were desperate, with no hope of returning to Iraq or of gaining citizenship in Syria or elsewhere. Further military action to destabilise the area would see “an almost unimaginable multiplication” of such tragedies.
Dr Williams warned the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and the US leadership: “Further deliberate destabilisation in this region is terrible folly, terrible folly.” Military action would be “criminal, ignorant, and potentially murderous folly”.
Instead, the UK and US should help relief agencies to make sure the people who were already suffering were looked after and their future taken seriously. They had a “very heavy responsibility to see what can be done for these people”.
Christians were being linked to the Western-led conflict, and told to leave. Dr Williams had been told what he described as “hair-raising” stories of ethnic cleansing in Iraq from nearly 300 Iraqi refugees in the Syrian Orthodox monastery at Ma’aret Sednaya, near Damascus. “We heard of the firebombing of houses and shops. We heard of abductions and of murders.”
On Monday, the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Colin Bennetts, speaking in the House of Lords, asked the Government whether pulling British troops out of Iraq meant that refugees could return to Iraq to live a normal life. The Government said that this was an “ultimate ambition”.
But last week, Syria tightened its visa restrictions, citing the pressure caused by hosting 1.4 million refugees, although it said it would not repatriate them forcibly.
The UN said the UK should do more to provide places for Iraqi refugees. On Saturday, it said it wanted Britain to develop an “active resettlement programme”. Estimates suggest there are 8000 Iraqi failed asylum-seekers who are still in the UK. Official figures put the Iraqi community in the UK at 580. The UK sent back five out of every six Iraqi applicants last year.