The following statement was released yesterday by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. At our meeting in Low Week we remembered and prayed for those who have died or have been wounded in the war in Iraq, and for those innocent civilians who have suffered so terribly in the military action and its aftermath. We prayed also for our service personnel who are still involved, and for their timely return. Even if the greatest care is taken to avoid civilian casualties, the nature of modern warfare is such that the general population of a country under attack is always at risk. We have serious concerns about the use made of weapons which have an inherently random or enduring impact, such as cluster-bombs and weapons incorporating depleted uranium. Once the conflict is over those who have used these weapons have a moral responsibility to do all they can to deal with the consequences of their use. There is now the opportunity for a better future for the people of Iraq, who before the war had endured a brutal dictatorship and more than a decade of comprehensive sanctions. For this future to be realised, the Coalition must be no less committed to the 'waging of peace' than it was to the waging of war. In the first instance it is crucial that law and order be established, so that urgent humanitarian needs can be met. There will follow an arduous long-term task of political and economic reconstruction, which will call on the generosity and skills of the international community. We believe that the UN must have a central role in this respect. The inherent right of Iraqis to self-determination in the regeneration of their country needs to be balanced by measures required for the civil and religious rights of all, and the protection of minorities. Iraq has a rich diversity of human communities, including communities of faith. The right to express religious faith without fear and discrimination must be regarded as a fundamental principle of the development of the country Resolution of the crisis in Iraq will be successful only if the international community also devotes itself to promoting the stability of the entire region. No settlement can secure this goal unless the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is justly resolved. We affirm and will continue to support the special mission of the Church of the Holy Land to bring both sides to reconciliation and to assist in the search for a just peace, and the particular witness of the Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah.
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