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Chartres: ‘Our work in Iraq is not finished’

15 July 2016


Surviving: internally-displaced civilians flee their homes during fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State, during a military operation to regain control of the city of Fallujah, last month

Surviving: internally-displaced civilians flee their homes during fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State, during a military op...

AS THE dust settled on last week’s Chilcot report (News, 8 July), bishops in the House of Lords had their say on its assessment of the war in Iraq.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, said that the UK needed “less hubris” in international affairs, and a “greater awareness of different world views”.

“The tectonic plates of the world are shifting. Unchallengeable western hegemony is passing and a new multipolar world, in which we still have a crucial role, is emerging,” he told the Lords during a lengthy debate on Tuesday.

Bishop Chartres also recalled the complacency of some United States’ officials at the time. One reportedly said: “Once we zap the bad guys, there will be cheering all the way to the ballot box.”

But however disastrous the outcome of the conflict was, “our work in Iraq is not finished,” he said. The thousands of displaced people, including many Christian and Yazidis minorities, are not safe in the refugee camps.

“Government assistance for organisations working among these neglected and vulnerable people is urgent.”

Later, the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, gave his assessment of the actions of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

“I believe the decision to go to war taken by the Prime Minister and Parliament at the time was an honourable one and was honourably made. It was in my view a tragic misjudgement, but it was not criminal.”

It was clear that there was no obvious solution to the problem of Iraq in 2003, but, rather than bringing stability to the region, the invasion had brought “sectarian strife, massive displacement of people, and terrible casualties”, Lord Harries said. Syria today was a reminder that not intervening could lead to just as deadly consequences as intervention.

Lord Harries told the House that, in 2003, he had opposed the conflict because he did not believe it met the just war criteria. This ancient moral framework should still be guiding politicians today, he argued.

“My concern, then and now, is the application of traditional just war criteria, which I still think are highly relevant to every possible conflict in the modern world. In the case of Iraq, although a case could be made out for its legality, it lacked the authority of a true international consensus. That is the lesson we need to bear in mind for the future.”

Bishop Chartres had earlier made a similar point; he suggested that every Government must keep a long historical perspective even at moments of crisis. “Someone who dwells on history may be somewhat tedious, but at the same time someone with a sense of destiny and no sense of history can be very dangerous,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief released a statement which reminded politicians that debate on Mr Blair’s decision 13 years ago does nothing to help those still suffering.

“While the current reflection on Iraq is important, it does not make an impact on the ongoing dire situation in the country,” the statement said.

“There remain many Yazidis, Shias, Syriac Catholics, Protestants, Sabean-Mandaeans, Sunnis, as well as many others who continue to be targeted by Islamic State on the basis of their identity,” it said.

Despite this, the Government’s refugee programmes have only re-settled a few hundred Iraqis. This should be immediately increased, the APPG said.

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