The elections of January 2005 and December 2005 and the adoption of a constitution in October 2005 are signs of progress for Iraqis in their efforts to build a democratic society. Despite these political developments, the situation in Iraq remains complex, uncertain and dangerous. The need to establish security remains paramount.
Terrorists and insurgents continue to target both security personnel and civilians in an effort to destabilize the new government. The U.S. remains in a difficult position as it must continue to provide basic security even though its presence is still resented by many in Iraq and across the Muslim world. The additional reports of prisoner abuse and mistreatment of detainees, on a wider scale than previously thought, further compromise the role of occupation forces. On the other hand, many Iraqi leaders have made it clear that the presence of U.S. and Coalition forces is important during this time of transition. As the occupation continues, political pressures within the U.S. are building support for a withdrawal in ways that may not promote stability. Other important ways to enhance security are to accelerate economic and social reconstruction in Iraq; but both seem to be lagging and U.S. funding for reconstruction seems to be in jeopardy.
Sunnis participation in the December 2005 election does not seem to have undermined the insurgency. In addition many Sunnis remain concerned with the constitution’s emphasis on regional autonomy and federalism that may leave Sunnis with little access to oil revenues.
For Iraqi Christians, the security situation remains very tense. For a long time many Christians view the attacks on Christians as attacks on all Iraqis and this may still be the case, but just last month there was a coordinated attack on several churches. The continuing violence and instability has led to a high proportion of Iraqi refugees being Christians. Statements by Shia leaders that they will respect the rights of minorities and not create a theocracy are encouraging. However, there is still some fear that the new Iraqi government may not fully respect religious liberty. The adopted constitution has contradictory clauses regarding religious liberty. The key now is the implementation of the constitution in law and practice. Many agree that the role of Islam must be respected, but this must be done in a way that protects the rights of religious minorities, including Christian minorities.
The Bishops' Position Prior to the War
USCCB issued four major letters/statements prior to the war: Bishop Wilton Gregory’s letter to President George Bush (9/13/2002); U.S. Bishops’ Statement on Iraq (11/13/2002); Statements of Bishop Gregory (2/26/2003 & 3/19/2003). Bishop Gregory summarized the bishops’ position: Our bishops' conference continues to question the moral legitimacy of any preemptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq. To permit preemptive or preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening or hostile regimes would create deeply troubling moral and legal precedents. Based on the facts that are known, it is difficult to justify resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature or Iraq's involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11. With the Holy See and many religious leaders throughout the world, we believe that resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force. (2/26/2003)
On August 8, 2005 Bishop John Ricard, then the Chair of the International Committee, wrote to the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor to urge stronger action to protect religious liberty in the new constitution; and in October he wrote to Congress regarding the abuse of prisoners.
In January 2006 USCCB issued a major statement on Iraq (www.usccb.org/sdwp/peace/churchleaders.shtml). Bishop Thomas Wenski, Chairman of the Committee on International Policy, called for a “serious and civil” dialogue that leads to “responsible transition” in Iraq. The Bishop noted that “our bishops’ Conference repeatedly expressed grave moral concerns about the military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of an invasion and occupation….At the same time, our nation cannot just look back. The intervention in Iraq has brought with it a new set of moral responsibilities to help Iraqis secure and rebuild their country.”
“Our nation cannot afford a shrill and shallow debate that distorts reality and reduces the options to ‘cut and run’ versus ‘stay the course,’” said Bishop Wenski. “Instead we need a forthright discussion that begins with an honest assessment of the situation in Iraq and acknowledges both the mistakes that have been made and the signs of hope that have appeared. Most importantly, an honest assessment of our moral responsibilities toward Iraq should commit our nation to a policy of responsible transition….Our nation’s military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as it takes for a responsible transition, leaving sooner rather than later.”
A responsible transition in Iraq means establishing a series of basic benchmarks, including: “achieving adequate levels of security; establishing the rule of law; promoting economic reconstruction to help create reasonable levels of employment and economic opportunity; and supporting the development of political structures to advance stability, political participation, and respect for religious freedom and basic human rights.”
Achieving a responsible transition also involves meeting four key challenges. First, in the necessary confrontation with terrorists, our nation must guard against excessive military responses that endanger civilians or abuse prisoners. Such responses can violate human rights and undermine public support in Iraq. Terrorism cannot be fought solely with military methods. Second, religious freedom must be protected to promote true democracy. Third, our nation and others must provide more support for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing dire situations in Iraq. Fourth, the costly war cannot become an excuse for ignoring other pressing needs, especially the poor at home and abroad.
Urge members of Congress to engage in a “serious and civil” public dialogue that promotes a “responsible transition” in Iraq, “leaving sooner rather than later,” and meets these benchmarks:
- achieving adequate levels of security;
- establishing the rule of law;
- promoting economic reconstruction; and
- supporting political structures to advance stability, political participation, and respect for religious freedom and basic human rights.
- confronting terrorism without using excessive military force that endangers civilians or abuses prisoners, and without relying solely on military methods to counter terrorism;
- protecting religious liberty in Iraq, especially for Christians and other religious minorities;
- providing more support for Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers; and
- resisting the temptation to ignore other pressing needs, especially the poor at home and abroad.