War against Iraq could escalate into a nuclear conflict and risk the lives
of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East, Dr Rowan Williams, the
next Archbishop of Canterbury, warns today.
In his strongest criticism yet of military action, Dr Williams says that a
pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein could "rapidly and uncontrollably spiral
down into chaos."
In an article in The Telegraph, he adds that to ignore the fears of people
in the area would leave the West open to the criticism that it was behaving like
a colonial power.
His comments are unlikely to endear him to Downing Street, which is engaged
in delicate negotiations over the wording of a new resolution on Iraq expected
to be debated at the United Nations this week.
Government officials have already privately voiced their irritation at the
anti-war rhetoric of Church of England bishops and Dr Williams, who was selected
for the post of Archbishop by Tony Blair.
Making his first public statement since the retirement last Thursday of his
predecessor, Dr George Carey, Dr Williams recognizes that the Iraqi regime is
"brutal and violent". However, pre-emptive action against Saddam could "undermine
the society of states" and destabilize other parts of the world, a dangerous prospect
when a number of countries have weapons of mass destruction.
"The exact calculation of what weaponry might be employed by a cornered Saddam
Hussein is uncertain; and so is the retaliation that might then be provoked in
the region from its sole nuclear power, Israel," he says.
An attack by the West is likely to "risk the lives of hundreds of thousands
in a region that could rapidly and uncontrollably spiral down into chaos. We also
jeopardize any authority we might have to appeal for restraint in other situations
on the basis of international law."
The moral issue is whether the West is the best judge of the needs of the region,
especially when that judgment appears to overrule local concerns.
The Archbishop has been a consistent opponent of war against Iraq since he
signed a declaration in July which described it as "illegal and immoral". On the
day of his appointment later that month he pledged to continue asking "awkward
questions". Dr Carey has also been an outspoken critic of action against Iraq.
The United States is expected to present a revised version of its draft resolution
on Iraq to the UN within days.
Mr Blair and President George W Bush have been pressing for a tough resolution
which would allow the West to take military action the moment Saddam frustrated
the work of weapons inspectors.
But they are believed to have softened their language after Russia and France
argued that a second resolution would have to be framed and debated for war to
have a UN mandate.
Saddam said yesterday that Iraq would take the new resolution "into consideration"
if it was not merely a pretext for an American strike on Baghdad.
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