Letter: Iraq: time to think

Sir: For the moment, a very precarious peace continues in the wake of Saddam Hussein's agreement to restore the weapons inspectorate in Iraq. The question we should like to raise as bishops of the Anglican church is whether this hiatus can be used for looking at some wider moral and strategic issues.

We share entirely the concern of the British and American administrations to stop or limit the damage being done by Saddam Hussein to the welfare of his people and the security of the region. But we hope to see some sharper definition of what precisely the allied powers mean to achieve for Iraq and the region before our government embarks on a course that will undoubtedly involve more civilian casualties and more erosion of the bases of civil society in Iraq.

There is a general will in the international community to see the excesses of the present Iraqi government reined in, and that will has been and still is expressed in terms of a threat of military force. Yet the Security Council as a whole has reluctantly and rightly not endorsed specific plans for military action: we believe this is significant.

Two issues cry out for attention. What looks like a pattern of "brinkmanship"by Saddam Hussein suggests that the present system of weapons inspection is vulnerable to being used by him as a tool to embarrass and confuse the Western powers. Can anything be done to change this? If the inspectorate is seen simply as a reminder of allied power in the region, it will continue to invite this frustrating and dangerous response. What can be done to make the system a recognisable tool of regional security?

Then there is the painful issue of sanctions. Consensus is growing that the existing sanctions are ineffective in weakening the regime and bear intolerably on the ordinary population of Iraq. Does the continuance of sanctions in their present form present Saddam Hussein with another weapon to be turned against the Western powers, and how long can the burden on the ordinary Iraqi be maintained without permanent damage to Iraq's life - quite apart from the humanitarian anxieties the present policy should be arousing? Under what conditions can sanctions be reviewed or ended?

We do not minimise the difficulties faced by the international community and by our own government, and we are grateful for the skill and patience shown by so many in handling this renewed threat. Our concern is that the situation should not continue to drift from crisis to crisis, and that the opportunity should be taken of urging some detailed consideration of our aims in and for the region. Many voices have been raised in recent days in the international community asking for just this consideration. In the name of all our brothers and sisters in the region - Christians, Muslims and others - we wish to add our own voices to this demand, before there is further terror and bloodshed.

ROWAN WILLIAMS

Bishop of Monmouth

PETER PRICE

Bishop of Kingston

ALWYN RICE-JONES

Archbishop of Wales

BARRY ROGERSON

Bishop of Bristol

COLIN BENNETTS

Bishop of Coventry

CHRISTOPHER MAYFIELD

Bishop of Manchester

CHRISTOPHER HERBERT

Bishop of St Albans

PETER SELBY

Bishop of Worcester

BARRY MORGAN

Bishop of Bangor

THOMAS DAVIES

Bishop of Llandaff

HUW JONES

Bishop of St Davids

JOHN AUSTIN

Bishop of Aston

WILFRED WOOD

Bishop of Croydon

RICHARD LLEWELLIN

Bishop of Dover

JOHN HIND

Bishop in Europe

HENRY SCRIVEN

Assistant Bishop in Europe

GRAHAM JONES

Bishop of St Germans

MICHAEL DOE

Bishop of Swindon

GRAHAM DOW

Bishop of Willesden

London SW15

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