Christian Aid's position on the current crisis in Iraq

Originally published
Since 1995 Christian Aid has supported local NGOs in Northern Iraq working with local communities to meet basic needs, defend human rights, and promote good governance and accountability. The Iraqi government has not permitted Christian Aid to work in this way in the government-controlled areas of central and southern Iraq. Christian Aid's views are informed by the principle that the Iraqi people must be allowed to determine their own future.
The impact of a war on the Iraqi people

Christian Aid is deeply concerned about the impact of a full-scale war on the Iraqi people and the potentially devastating humanitarian consequences on a population that is already vulnerable.

Christian Aid believes that military action must be the very last resort, after all other approaches - diplomatic and political - have been tried, pursued and have failed. Non-military strategies must be pursued in earnest and as a matter of urgency, without the assumption that military action is a foregone conclusion. Any decision to declare war on Iraq must be multilateral and should be taken through the UN's Security Council, in accordance with international law.

Our concerns about a full-scale war are shared by a wide range of church people and other religious leaders, both in the UK and internationally. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, in a recent interview with the BBC, said

' I personally believe that we shouldn't take action without first going to the UN and getting a very strong consensus. This is the position of my church and many churches in the land.' (Church Times 13.9.02) Others like Right Rev Colin Bennets, Bishop of Coventry, have described the threat of military action against Iraq as 'immoral and illogical'. (Gdn. 9.8.02)

Christian Aid acknowledges that there is already a humanitarian crisis in Iraq, as we explain below. But we are alarmed at the potential loss of civilian life and by the scale of human suffering that may result from a full-scale war against Iraq. For example, many of Iraq's military installations are close to areas of high population density.

Years of war and sanctions have created an extremely vulnerable population whose ability to cope with any additional hardship is very limited. According to UNICEF, child mortality rates have risen by 160 per cent over the past decade.

Extensive and prolonged conflict risks undermining the essential supply of food and medicine to Iraqi civilians. The populations in northern Iraq and the centre/south already rely on monthly, imported food rations under the Oil for Food Programme.

Iraq already has approximately 700,000 internally displaced people. Increased conflict could lead to further population displacement with catastrophic consequences if these people's access to food is cut off, or they find themselves trapped at closed borders. In the north, a winter campaign would exacerbate humanitarian problems as this region would be heavily snowbound.

Responsibility for the humanitarian crisis

Christian Aid recognises that Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime has had a devastating impact on the vast majority of Iraqi people and continues to do so. It is responsible for gross violations of human rights and for crimes against humanity. State repression and an absence of democracy are a daily hindrance to millions of Iraqis. Materially, the regime's infrastructure has been designed to prioritise the needs of the military over the civilian population and to destroy traditional ways of life, making people more vulnerable.

But there is evidence to demonstrate that sanctions imposed by the UN after the last Gulf war eleven years ago have deepened Iraq's humanitarian problems and have contributed to rising levels of poverty in the country. A full-scale war against Iraq would certainly exacerbate these problems in both the short and medium term.

Effect of military action on the Middle East

US and UK governments must recognise that renewed war against Iraq will have implications throughout the region. Across the Middle East, opposition to a US-orchestrated war on Iraq is widespread. To launch a new war on Iraq without addressing the other pressing issues in the Middle East will only strengthen the hand of extremists and terrorists. To use force against Iraq while failing to fully support the reconstruction of Afghanistan or to address the root causes of the Israel-Palestine conflict (including Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestinian territory) is likely to reinforce a widely-held perception that western countries are only motivated by their own strategic interests. Indeed, the failure of the international community to ensure compliance with UN resolutions in the case of Israel-Palestine may give credence to the view that double standards are being applied.

Above all, Christian Aid believes that military action will not solve the fundamental causes of conflict and insecurity across the Middle East: poverty and inequality combined with social, economic, cultural and political injustice and the denial of basic human rights.

Role of the international community

If a full-scale war were to be declared against Iraq, the warring parties must adhere to international humanitarian law. In accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, civilians must not be targeted and nor must installations essential to the survival of civilians. All possible measures must be taken to avoid civilian casualties.

Likewise, the humanitarian needs of the civilian population during and after any conflict must be met. Food aid and essential items for survival such as medicines, water and shelter must be provided to all those who need them on all sides of the conflict, including to those whose supplies are cut off as a result of military action.

When drawing up detailed plans for military action, it is the responsibility of the warring parties to guarantee access and provide sufficient resources for the provision of independent humanitarian assistance to all civilians likely to be affected by such military action. As Christian Aid can verify, the war in Afghanistan revealed a huge gap between assertions that humanitarian space would be created for the delivery of aid and the reality on the ground.

The international community, and especially the belligerents and neighbouring states, has the responsibility to protect and assist refugees and displaced persons under the UN 1951 Convention and customary international humanitarian law.

Christian Aid believes the UN and the international community at large must address a potential breakdown in social order in the immediate aftermath of any regime change in Iraq. Therefore, the issue of short-term and long-term protection of Iraqis must be addressed. It would be essential that the form of protection adopted had the acceptance of the Iraqi population.

The future of Iraq

In the long term, the Iraqi people must be allowed to create their own political and economic development models and their own strategies for tackling poverty. Most importantly, Iraqis must be able to participate in designing and implementing development plans at community level. But to do all of this, they will need a strong and long-term commitment from the international community to rebuilding Iraq.

The international community must actively engage in promoting and supporting a democratic and pluralistic society in Iraq, free from internal repression. It should give its support to political settlements which address Iraq's internal conflicts and which guarantee the human rights of the different ethnic groups within Iraq's borders. The perpetrators of past human rights abuses must be brought to justice.

If there were to be an increase in Iraqi oil production as a result of events in Iraq, Iraq's re-integration into the world's oil market would need to be carefully planned in order to avoid adverse effects on those developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices.

As a matter of urgency, the international community must give due attention to the long-term implications of war for the civilian population. Plans affecting the future of Iraq must not be determined solely by the international terrorism agenda or by strategic concerns over control of oil reserves. They must address the long-term needs of the Iraqi people and include a strategy for poverty eradication and the defence and promotion of human rights and democracy.