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UK action in Iraq has Archbishop’s backing, for now

03 October 2014


Hard to find: having planted their flag, Islamic State soldiers are nowhere to be seen near Rashad Bridge, 180 miles north of Baghdad

Hard to find: having planted their flag, Islamic State soldiers are nowhere to be seen near Rashad Bridge, 180 miles north of Baghdad

AIR STRIKES ordered against Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Iraq have the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Several Free Church leaders have expressed their doubts, however.

Recalled to Parliament last Friday, MPs voted in favour of Britain's third intervention in Iraq in 24 years. Since then, RAF Tornado jets have flown a number of sorties into Iraq. It was revealed on Tuesday that British planes had bombed vehicles and fighters in Iraq for the first time, aiding Kurdish forces who are battling IS in north-western Iraq.

Speaking in Friday's debate in the House of Lords, Archbishop Welby said that this was a just cause. But he warned that the world would not be able to defeat Islamist extremism by force of arms alone.

"We do need to take this action now," he said. "But it is also necessary over time that any response to ISIL [another name for IS] and to this global danger be undertaken on an ideological and religious basis that sets out a more compelling vision, a greater challenge and a more remarkable hope than that offered by ISIL."

Earlier that day, the Prime Minister had told MPs that "there was no realistic prospect" of defeating the terrorist group, which recently beheaded a British aid worker, David Haines, and holds at least two other British hostages, without the use of military action. "If we allow ISIL to grow and thrive, there's no doubt in my mind that the level of threat to the country would increase," he said.

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said that he, also, was in favour of military action against IS. After a six-hour debate, the government motion, which restricted engagement to air action over Iraq, was passed overwhelming by 524 votes to 43.

A joint statement by the General Secretary of the Baptist Union and the President of the Methodist Conference before the vote said, however, that military intervention was hugely risky, and rarely the best option.

"An ideology - even one as dangerous and perverse as that of IS - cannot be defeated by the use of weapons," their statement said. "Any intervention must be legally justified, and can only be supported as one part of a broad political and economic strategy which must have the support of countries in the region. It is not certain that the most crucial elements of such a strategy are in place."

Archbishop Welby said, however, that religious leaders "must up their game", and be involved in offering an alternative to young Muslims attracted to jihadism. "The action proposed today is right; but we must not rely on a short-term solution on a narrow front to a global, ideological, religious, holistic and trans-generational challenge."

The Bishop of Derby, Dr Alistair Redfern, told peers that IS was not a "disease" that could be "eradicated" but rather was a philosophy that needed to be challenged. "Besides the current military need, we have to engage with the debate about what a good society is from the ingredients of politics and religion. We have to contribute to that together if we are to stem this tide and create a safer world to live in."

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, agreed, saying that it was impossible to bomb an ideology. Instead, IS's beliefs should be dismantled by the "more powerful weapons of truth, justice, and compassion".

The Recording Clerk for the Society of Friends (Quakers), Paul Parker, wrote to Mr Cameron on the day before the debate, urging him to consider non-military options to bring peace to Iraq and Syria. "We remind those who make these decisions in Britain that it is often easier to start a war than to end it, and that additional violence itself fuels a bloody and destructive cycle."

Iraqi government is the weak link in the anti-IS coalition

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