Bishop of Belleville
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
June 22, 2004
The difficult situation in Iraq continues to test our nation. A brutal dictator has been deposed but a year later Iraq does not appear to be a nation clearly on its way to security, stability, democratic self-governance, and economic prosperity. We welcome the new efforts to develop an international consensus on how to build a just peace in Iraq, as evidenced by the recent UN Security Council resolution. As the transfer of sovereignty nears, the challenges ahead are daunting. In seeking to meet them, our nation has to confront both our limitations and responsibilities in the extremely complex social, political, and religious reality of post-Hussein Iraq.
We reiterate the grave moral concerns previously expressed by our episcopal conference about the military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of an invasion and occupation. The events of the past year have reinforced those ethical concerns.
Military intervention has brought with it new and grave moral responsibilities. As the principal occupying power in Iraq, the United States now has responsibility for sustained, long-term efforts to help the Iraqi people build a stable, pluralistic, democratic, and prosperous Iraq. Unfortunately, there are no simple or quick ways of achieving these goals. The people of Iraq must determine their own political future even if that process is complicated and fraught with potential difficulties.
A new Iraq cannot be imposed by the United States or any other occupying power. As the Holy Father said in his recent meeting with President George W. Bush, It is the evident desire of everyone that this situation now be normalized as quickly as possible with the active participation of the international community and, in particular, the United Nations Organization, in order to ensure a speedy return of Iraq's sovereignty, in conditions of security for all its people. We are encouraged by the new efforts of the United States to work with the United Nations to ensure that Iraqis have the means and a clear plan for reassuming their sovereign responsibilities. Continued support for an active UN role seems critical to ensuring the success of this process.
Efforts to establish greater security are essential for economic and political reconstruction. We are deeply concerned, however, about overly aggressive tactics which can place civilians at risk, ignore important cultural and religious sensitivities, and fuel violence and terrorism. They can also delay much needed rehabilitation of physical, economic, and social infrastructure, and undermine efforts to build a more civil society. As the Holy Father said in his World Day of Peace message, the struggle against terrorism cannot be repressive. It would be highly unfortunate if efforts to ensure security and stability played into the hands of terrorists who want to make Iraq a battleground for a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The United States could reinforce security in the region by inviting cooperation by all concerned according to their own responsibilities.
Amidst the difficulties of building a stable, democratic Iraq, the special importance of basic human rights, especially religious freedom, should not be neglected. The inherent dignity and equal worth of all Iraqis must be respected. The historical role of Islam in Iraq is clear, but it would be a tragic irony if the liberation of Iraq led to the creation of a kind of Islamic state that placed the Christian minority and other minorities in a precarious position. Now, as before, Christians in Iraq need to experience the solidarity of Christians around the world, so that this ancient community can continue to thrive and contribute to the building of a new Iraq.
The war and occupation in Iraq have raised fundamental questions about the U.S. role in the world. These include the need to find ways other than preventive war to deal with challenges posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism; to abide by strict limits on the use of military force; and to strengthen the United Nations and respect international law, including the Geneva Conventions. Our nation cannot accept a permissive interpretation of international law, the inevitability of civilian casualties or the abuse of human rights, or an over-reliance on military responses to the problem of global terrorism. The United States would contribute to an improvement in the international situation if it adopted a collaborative approach based on respectful consideration of the viewpoints of others, as part of a broader effort to develop a global system of cooperative security.
Despite these and other challenges, the United States cannot allow its responsibilities in Iraq to keep it from addressing other pressing needs at home and abroad. War and reconstruction in Iraq must not result in an abandonment of our nation's responsibilities to the poor at home and abroad, or a diversion of essential resources from other humanitarian emergencies around the world.
By its military intervention in Iraq, the U.S. government has taken on a moral obligation to engage in a difficult, long-term process of nation building. In resolving to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people, it has embarked on an extraordinary effort at rebuilding a country after decades of a corrupt and brutal dictatorship and years of devastating sanctions. This effort will have to continue and be strengthened so that, in concert with the international community, our country can help empower the Iraqi people to create a society of peace and justice. In renewing our moral concerns and calling for our nation to recognize both its limitations and responsibilities, we also renew our call for prayer for those who serve our nation and their families, for the people of Iraq, and for a region and world broken by violence and longing for peace.