London: call for remembrance, prayer and action for Iraq

 A call for a day of remembrance, prayer and action on 19 March, the eve of the anniversary of the war with Iraq is one of the responses that came from an ecumenical seminar held in London on Tuesday entitled 'Iraq War - five years on : A continuing challenge to Christians'. Representatives from Justice and Peace and social responsibility networks gathered to discuss ways in which might Christians might respond to the war and on-going occupation of Iraq. Speaker Paul Rogers, professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford described how the UK Government has been drawn into an almost endless war in the region, beginning with Afghanistan, spreading to Iraq and possibly beyond which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and detentions without trial. He went on to say that the military path is not working. The resistance that we see in the Middle East cannot be controlled by what he called 'lid-ism', the use force and militarism. State centred security models need to be turned to human security models addressing the real insecurity threats to our world - the rich-poor divide, climate change and the expansion of military technology. Milan Rai, co-founder of Justice not Vengeance and editor of Peace News outlined the decision making process that had taken us into war and the role that public opinion had played delaying this decision. While some feel that anti-war actions of Spring 2003 did not stop the UK from becoming a key partner in the war they did force the Blair government to make accommodations at the time, and he believes, have helped prevent the escalation of a military response to the situation in Iran. Public opinion now stands two to one in opposition to the on-going occupation and a deep sense of responsibility for the suffering of the people of Iraq. This means that a way must be found of withdrawing the US and UK troops while offering support and protection to the people of Iraq, perhaps by a replacement peacekeeping force acceptable to the Iraqi people. Suha Rassam, an Iraqi and former professor of medicine at the University of Baghdad spoke of the particular plight of the ancient Christian communi y of Iraq which now fears extinction. She spoke of the gradual displacement of the Christian community during the Iraq -Iran war, during the first Gulf War and the period of sanctions now exacerbated by this 5 years of war. 44% of Iraqi refugees in Syria are from the Christian community. Christian churches and church personnel have been especially targeted in recent months. Suha spoke of the need to challenge both Muslim and Christian fundamentalism and to create ways for people to recognise their need of each other in building peace in Iraq. At the seminar, the organisers, Pax Christi and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, launched their Christian Peace Witness for Iraq on 19 March, urging churches and communities to hold vigils or prayer services in town centres on 19th March to remind local communities of the 5th anniversary of the war with Iraq. There will be a national gathering in central London in the early evening of 19 March. At the same time, they ask that church communities write to local MPs about the plight of Iraqi refugees and detainees and to urge that the UK Government work at non-military ways of bringing justice and sustained peace to the people of Iraq. They also urge Christians to support Muslim and Christian agencies working with displaced people. A full text of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq can be found at:

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