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War on Iraq fails to meet the conditions enshrined in the criteria for a just war and hence would be immoral and unjust, according to a publication of the peak Catholic social justice body in Australia.

`We can be morally certain that, even if authorised by the UN Security Council, war is not justified’ (p. 50). The 18,000-word paper, War on Iraq: Is It Just? was written by Fr Bruce Duncan, a Redemptorist specialist in Catholic social thought in Melbourne.

Bishop William Morris, chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, said that Pope John Paul II, leading Vatican officials and bishops’ conferences worldwide warned repeatedly that the `Coalition of the Willing’ had failed to meet the conditions for a just war. As the Pope said in January: `I say NO TO WAR! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity’.

While War on Iraq was being printed, the Australian Catholic bishops stated on 5 March:

[W]e believe that the strict conditions of Christian teaching for the use of military force against Iraq have not been met. In particular, we question the moral legitimacy of a pre-emptive strike. Indeed, any action against Iraq without broad international support and the mandate of the United Nations Security Council would be questionable.

War on Iraq contends that the military intervention fails to meet the just war criteria.

For the first time in the history of the western democracies, the United States, Britain and Australia have prepared for a war without the blessing and moral authority of their churches. This is a completely unprecedented situation (p. 11).

The paper traces the Church’s efforts to challenge the US rationale for war, and then assesses the arguments in detail.

Just cause – link with al Qaeda?
The document argues that there is no just cause. Iraq has not invaded anyone and lacks the capability to do so. War on Iraq rejects as spurious the two arguments of the Bush administration, that Iraq has links with al Qaeda, and that its weapons of mass destruction posed a clear and imminent threat.

As US and other intelligence organisations keep advising, there is no reliable evidence of links with al Qaeda. The former head of Australia’s Joint Intelligence Organisation, Major-General Alan Stretton, regarded Colin Powell’s claims in February of an Iraqi link with al Qaeda as `ludicrous’.
War on Iraq states: `For the US to have continued to appeal to such a link to justify war… was fundamentally disingenuous and specious’ in its manipulation of public opinion. `The US case rests on supposition, and unlikely claims that Saddam was intending to attack the United States.’ (35-36).  War on Iraq considered allegations of Iraq being linked with al Qaeda as highly `reprehensible in the grave circumstances. It should be recognised as war propaganda to whip up public fears and exploit the outrage’ following the terrorist attacks (p. 45).

Weapons of mass destruction
`Despite the best efforts of the western intelligence agencies, no convincing evidence had been produced’ that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction (p. 11). Indeed, the weapons inspectors insisted that most of these weapons have been eliminated, and no one is sure if Iraq has any left or if they are usable. In short, Saddam has already been substantially disarmed. `It is quite astonishing that for all the claims made by the Bush administration about Iraq’s weapons [of mass destruction], neither it nor the weapons inspectors have been able…to produce any evidence of them’ (p. 44).

As Hans Blix warned, `It would be very paradoxical’ if the world waged war against Iraq only to find it had very little or any of such weapons. War on Iraq continued: `The entire world would feel deceived, and justifiably angry with the United States. One can hardly imagine the outrage and fury that would sweep the Muslim world then. Osama bin Laden would have thousands of recruits for decades to come’ (p. 49).

Moreover, various experts have warned that the alarm about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons is exaggerated. Such weapons are difficult to use, and do not present a serious threat to the US army. The only major threat would come from nuclear weapons, but the weapons inspectors insist that Iraq has no such capability and any efforts to create one would be readily detected. War on Iraq warns: `It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that … the public is being deceived about the degree of threat and misled into believing this has provided the justification for war’ (p. 33).

It is also very disturbing that the US administration, and even Mr Powell, have continued to make allegations that the weapons inspectors have found untrue, particularly the existence of mobile biological laboratories, the claim that aluminium tubes were evidence of attempts to refine uranium, and the existence of nuclear facilities (p. 34).

War on Iraq considers that the case for invading Iraq `is contrived and misleading. Many of the Bush Administration’s allegations against Iraq are unproven or simply untrue. It seems that the US Government is desperately searching for reasons to justify decisions it has already made’ (p. 35).

War on Iraq points out that the United States supplied Iraq with chemical and biological weapons, even after it had used them on Iranian troops and Kurds, with the full knowledge of the US government. Donald Rumsfeld was in 1983 President Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East and helped facilitate trading contracts. Hence many Muslims consider the US is hypocritically using Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for an invasion (26). Moreover, at least 15 countries in Asia and the Middle East possess such weapons.

The US claim to a right of pre-emptive strike is deeply disturbing for the whole system of international law and order developed since World War II. Ironically, the US will be going to war to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1441, but against the wishes of the Security Council. War on Iraq consists that `US claims to a right of pre-emptive attack on Iraq on the grounds of just cause are spurious. Iraq poses no clear and imminent threat, least of all to the United States’ (p. 45).
The Catholic statement recalls that Pope John Paul in January 1998 called the economic sanctions against Iraq `biological warfare against a civilian population’ (p. 36), yet despite repeated appeals by religious and civil leaders, that the sanctions were `genocidal’ and had claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, they continued in force.

According to War on Iraq, `western governments imposed excessively harsh sanctions, with highly predictable and continuing results, and with barely a whisper of protest from the media. It is inconceivable that public opinion would have tolerated such extreme sanctions against a western nation in similar circumstances… there has been no need for such savage economic sanctions’ (p. 37).

Certainly Saddam must carry much of the blame for the appalling humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. But it was not simply Saddam’s fault. Despite the pleas of leading experts and UN officials, the sanctions were kept in place for political reasons. They amounted to a `crime against humanity, and the US and other politicians and officials responsible should be made accountable before an international court. The sanctions are a bloody stain on the conscience of the West’ (p. 47).

Yet the Australian government continued to support and help enforce the sanctions. `Should Australia’s involvement be regarded as complicity in the torturous deaths of hundreds and thousands of children and other civilians?’ (p. 38).

War on Iraq considers that a war is likely to kill tens of thousands of people, force perhaps millions of others to flee, destroy more of the country’s badly damaged infrastructure, result in environmental pollution from burning oil wells and depleted uranium, and inflame Muslim opinion against the West and Christianity. Moreover, the economic costs of the war and reconstruction are likely to be extremely heavy.

Nor is war the last resort, because of the `steady progress of the weapons inspectors’ (p. 48). Despite the past efforts by Iraq to hinder the inspections, they have in fact worked, and according to Rolf Ekeus, former head of UNSCOM’s weapons inspectors, can continue to be effective `if properly backed up by international force’ (p. 32). There are still reasonable alternatives to war.

War on Iraq concludes that the argument for war is based on little more than conjecture. Yet the just war tradition insists that the burden of proof lies on those proposing war.  The `Coalition of the Willing’ has signally failed to prove its case, as the Catholic bishops worldwide have been saying. `According to expert commentators and weapons inspectors, a war against Iraq is not necessary. Continued inspections can contain and monitor any weapons development Iraq undertakes.’ And deterrence policies can still work (p. 45).