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An 18,000-word Catholic Church document has severely criticised the reasons given by the US and Australian governments for a war on Iraq as `contrived and misleading’.

It argues that the proposed military intervention violates the just war conditions and hence should be rejected as unjust.

Published by the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, War on Iraq: Is it Just? was written by Fr Bruce Duncan, a prominent Catholic social commentator.

The statement argues that no just cause has been established for war, as there is no convincing proof that Iraq aided the terrorist attacks on the United States and neither does it present an imminent threat. It argues that the claim to a right of preemptive strike is specious, lacks due authority and risks undermining the fundamental principles of international relations.

For the first time in their history, the western democracies are going to war `without the blessing of their churches. This is a completely unprecedented situation.’ (p.11).

War on Iraq charges that the alleged threat from weapons of mass destruction has been vastly exaggerated to panic public opinion.

A war would inflict grave damage on Iraq, with millions of people likely to flee, provoking a humanitarian disaster. War would also inflame Islamist militancy, attract radical recruits and fuel further terrorist attacks. In addition, the costs of the war will be astonishingly disproportionate.

Nor does a war satisfy the condition of last resort since many people, especially the weapons inspectors, think war can be avoided, as Iraq is already largely disarmed, and can be further constrained if need be without war.