Williams cites the Devil in attack on invasion 'spin'

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The Independent Online

The bitterness, recriminations and accusations of betrayal which enmeshed the Iraq war surfaced unexpectedly and powerfully at a memorial service for the fallen yesterday.

With members of the government who took Britain into this controversial conflict sitting in the congregation in St Paul's Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the Devil's influence as he condemned policymakers for failing to consider the human cost of their actions.

And outside St Paul's after the service, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq refused the proffered hand of the former prime minister Tony Blair, saying: "I am not shaking your hand, you have got blood on it."

Peter Brierley, whose son Lance-Corporal Shaun Brierley, 28, was killed in 2003, said: "I believe Tony Blair is a war criminal. I can't bear to be in the same room as him. I can't believe he has been allowed to come to this reception. I believe he has got the blood of my son and all of the other men and women who died out there on his hand."

In his address, Dr Rowan Williams praised the courage, fortitude and sacrifices of the 179 British personnel who were killed in the conflict.

"The demanding task of winning local trust in a chaotic, ravaged society like post-invasion Iraq was one of the heaviest responsibilities laid on armed personnel anywhere in recent times .... Many here will know just how patiently and consistently that work was taken on," he said.

But then he turned to those who had sent the men and women to a war which had faced massive opposition at home and which also claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis.

"Many people of my generation and younger grew up doubting whether we should ever see another straightforward international conflict, fought by a standing army with conventional weapons. We had begun to forget the realities of cost. And when such conflict appeared on the horizon, there were those among both policymakers and commentators who were able to talk about it without really measuring the price, the cost of justice." Gordon Brown and Geoff Hoon, who were members of the Blair cabinet at the time of the invasion, were among those who heard the Archbishop question the spiritual and moral authority of the nation's leaders.

Also present were the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, veterans and their families, and military leaders, many of whom had deep misgivings about the war.

General Sir Mike Jackson, then head of the Army, attended. He has joined the opposition to witnesses such as Mr Blair giving evidence to the forthcoming Iraq inquiry.

Dr Williams said: "The invisible enemy may be hiding in the temptation to look for shortcuts in the search for justice – letting ends justify means, letting others rather than oneself carry the cost, denying the difficulties or the failures so as to present a good public face." In this context, "the invisible enemy" denoted the Devil.

The second reading in the service was from St Paul's letter to the Ephesians: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

The Archbishop, who has strongly criticised the Iraq policy, said: "St Paul tells us to wrap ourselves around with the truth, to be defended by justice and to be impatient only for peace. These are not remote ideals for a religious minority. They are essential advice for those caught up in the anxious, fast-changing world of modern military operations, with the intense, even harsh, scrutiny they get from observers and commentators worldwide."

Tracey Hazel, whose son Corporal Ben Leaning, 24, from Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, was killed in 2007, lit a candle in memory of those who lost their lives. "I wanted to be here for Ben and all the fallen. It was nice they chose one of the parents to do it, as it's them that are left suffering when a loved one dies."

Dr Williams said: "The conflict in Iraq will, for a long time yet, exercise the historians, the moralists, the international experts. In a world as complicated as ours has become, it would be a very rash person who would feel able to say without hesitation, this was absolutely the right or the wrong thing to do, the right or the wrong place to be."

He added, in a possible reference to the No 10 "spin" used to justify the imminent invasion: "Perhaps we have learnt something, if only that there is a time to keep silent, a time to let go of the satisfyingly overblown language that is so tempting to human beings when war is in the air."

For Mr Brierley, from Batley, West Yorkshire, the death of his son was an issue of trust. "I understand soldiers go to war and die but they have to go to war for a good reason and be properly equipped to fight," he said.

As the memorial took place, news broke of the latest British fatality in Afghanistan. A soldier from 1st Battalion, The Coldstream Guards, was killed in an explosion near Camp Bastion in Helmand, taking the number of British troops killed in the conflict to 221.

Looking back: Blair on the war

On going to war: "I think these decisions are the most difficult you ever take, and you cannot and should not take them incidentally because you believe that you have some religious conviction that's superior to anyone else."

10 April 2009

"I'm not haunted by it, but of course I reflect on it, and am troubled by it, and feel a sense of responsibility for it."

31 Jan 2009

On the death of UN weapons inspector David Kelly: "That was utterly tragic but we did put ourselves through six months of the most intensive inquiry that any government has ever submitted itself to."

31 Jan 2009

"I don't know [if history will vindicate the decision]. Nobody knows. So there's no point in answering it."

31 Jan 2009

"I look at the Middle East now and I think if Saddam and his two sons were still running Iraq, how many other people would have died and would the region be more stable?"

31 Jan 2009

"If you don't have that strength, it's difficult to do the job. The job is as much about character as it is about anything else. For me, having faith was an important part of being able to do that."

26 November 2007