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The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has questioned the so-called ‘pre-deployment’ of Australian forces to the Middle East.

Bishop William Morris, Chairman of the ACSJC said, “The decision to join the U.S. military build up in the Persian Gulf seems to contradict strong community sentiment and runs the risk of undermining United Nations processes which provide the best means of resolving tensions in the Middle East without recourse to war.”

On Thursday 9 January, Acting Prime Minister John Anderson had confirmed that SAS personnel had been placed on standby.  In the short space of two weeks Australians are witnessing a larger contingent of forces being sent to the Gulf, with the first departures taking place on 23 January.  

Bishop Morris said, “Prime Minister Howard promised a full Parliamentary debate on a possible military commitment to war in Iraq and has, on a number of occasions, said that he wants to take the Australian people into his confidence.   However, the Government continues merely to assert the need for a commitment of Australian troops – it has not argued a persuasive case before Parliament or the Australian people.

“The Government maintains it has not yet made a decision to go to war.  However, this deployment reveals how Australia’s preparations for war have been allowed to run far in advance of any informed public debate on the matter.  There is a real risk that this situation will promote a state of mind in our community that war is inevitable.  Such a consensus cannot be allowed to develop at a time when no world leader or authority has made a convincing case that would justify war.

“Despite claims by the Defence Minister that the deployment is necessary for the acclimatisation of troops and to bring political pressure to bear on Iraq, the ACSJC considers this commitment to be premature when the diplomatic processes of the United Nations have yet to run their full course, and have by no means been exhausted” he said.

Restating the concerns of the Australian Catholic Bishops, Bishop Morris said, “We urge great restraint at this most delicate time and welcome the role of the United Nations in Iraq.  We recognise the United Nations as the legitimate authority in these matters and call upon our political leaders to do all in their power to build peace and avoid war.  We continue to pray that the United Nations process will be regarded by all nations as offering a real and effective alternative to war and a sign of hope for the future.

“This call for restraint is echoed in the observation of Pope John Paul II, in his World Peace Day Message, that ‘nowhere today is there a more obvious need for the correct use of political authority than in the dramatic situation of the Middle East and the Holy Land’.  The Holy Father has since argued strongly against military action in Iraq and called for adherence to existing international agreements.

Bishop Morris emphasized the Church’s concern for the safety and well-being of the Australian forces.  “The servicemen and women who have been sent to the Gulf leave Australia with our prayers for their safe return to families and loved ones.

“We are mindful of the terrible costs of war for all who are involved.  In the light of the current build up of military forces in the Middle East, Australia should also be mindful of the plight of the Iraqi people.  They have suffered greatly through long years of war and over a decade of trade sanctions.  Any further conflict would be a human catastrophe.  The Iraqi people are the innocent victims of this unfolding crisis” Bishop Morris concluded.