Agency warns war could destabilise Middle East

 The Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) issued a statement today expressing its 'deep concern' that a war against Iraq could trigger a humanitarian crisis and destabilise an already fragile Middle East and is calling on world leaders to resolve the issue peacefully. CIIR said: Iraq is under strain after 12 years of United Nations sanctions and decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Child mortality has risen by 160 per cent since the sanctions started after the last Gulf War; 11.4 per cent of children in north Iraq and 23.1 per cent in central and south Iraq are chronically malnourished. The nation has between 700,000 and one million internally displaced people. Sixteen million -- two-thirds of the population - are dependent on overseas food aid. War is likely to spark a humanitarian crisis as Iraq's neighbours would close their borders and the United Nations would stop delivering food. Attacks on Iraq's infrastructure would increase the population's suffering, as the transport, water and sanitation systems have not recovered from the last Gulf War. Iraq has borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait. King Abdullah of Jordan has said that "striking Iraq represents a catastrophe to Iraq and the region in general, and threatens the security and stability of the region." Mass protests against the West are increasingly common in the Middle East, according to CIIR's staff there. Thousands of Yemenis, including politicians and non-governmental organisations, took to the streets of Sana'a on 27 January to protest against the possible US-led war on Iraq and Israeli attacks on Palestinians. The protesters carried placards that deplored the military build-up in the region: "An aggression on Iraq is terrorism itself"; "War on Iraq is the return of colonialism"; "A strike on Iraq is a strike on one billion Muslims". CIIR executive director Christine Allen said: "Many in the Middle East are increasingly perceiving the US-led war on terrorism and the campaign against Iraq as an attack on Islam. The US and UK governments should be striving to repair fragile international relations. They should abide by the rules of international law that prevent them from taking unilateral action against Iraq." According to the United Nations charter of June 1945, only the United Nations Security Council has the authority to initiate military action, unless a sovereign state is acting in self-defence against an attack. Article 2.4 of the charter says: "All members [of the United Nations] shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force." Article 2.3 says that short of attack, "all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means." CIIR believes that all parties in this crisis have a legal and moral obligation to seek a peaceful resolution through the United Nations. CIIR will be joining the mass protest against the war on 15 February in London. CIIR staff, members and supporters will gather with Pax Christi supporters and Justice and Peace groups between 11.15am and 11.45am on the steps of St Martins in the Fields, Trafalgar Square. The Catholic Institute for International Relations is a development organisation working for justice and the eradication of poverty through skills-sharing and advocacy. It has programmes in 11 countries, including Yemen and Somaliland in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

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