Clergy question military mission in Iraq and Syria

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Hayat Abdel Nasser (right) fled the conflict in Syria and took shelter in this refugee camp in Arbat, outside Sulaimaniya, in northern Iraq in 2013. Photo: ACTAlliance/Sarah Malian
Hayat Abdel Nasser (right) fled the conflict in Syria and took shelter in this refugee camp in Arbat, outside Sulaimaniya, in northern Iraq in 2013. Photo: ACTAlliance/Sarah MalianChristian Aid is supporting Iraqi organisation REACH to provide essential items to 1500 families around Sulaimaniya and Erbil in the north of Iraq. These include hygiene kits containing first aid equipment, soap, shampoo, water purifiers and sanitary products which are essential for enabling people to keep clean and healthy, and maintain a sense of personal dignity

Leaders of 23 churches have written to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to express concern about the government’s decision to expand the Canadian military mission against the extremist group ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The letter from members of the Canadian Council of Churches was signed by leaders including Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bishop Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. It began by commending the government for recognizing the gravity of the situation. It acknowledged the fact that ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has been responsible for “deliberate and massive violations of basic human rights including the displacement and murder of historic Christian communities and the targeting of other religious minorities…war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The church leaders added, however, that they “have serious questions” about how Canada is responding. Church partners in the region have expressed concerns that more violence “will foster new or renewed grievances, further fracturing the social fabric of Middle Eastern society and making the restoration of peace a more difficult task,” the letter explained.

“We are convinced that military efforts to end or limit the present atrocities must be accompanied by other steps,” the leaders wrote. They urged the government to “strengthen its diplomatic efforts, increase humanitarian assistance and support for refugees, support civil society organizations, control arms, and focus on the protection of the rule of law and respect for human rights especially through inclusive government structures in Iraq and Syria.”

Broader diplomatic work is needed, they added, in order to stop the flow of resources and weapons to ISIS and to build a comprehensive international political framework that is supported by countries in the region, the UN and international law.

The letter also commended the government’s efforts to assist refugees and those who are internally displaced in the region. In December, the government promised to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria and 3,000 from Iraq. The church leaders sought reassurance that that commitment is not at the expense of resettlement and support for refugees from other countries. “Members of our parishes and congregations across Canada, as well as other organizations and volunteers, are eagerly waiting to receive Iraqi and Syrian refugees,” they wrote, urging the government to consult with the Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association to discuss how to co-ordinate the Canadian response to the crisis.

“Our views are informed by deeply rooted beliefs in the sanctity of human life and dignity, the need to protect vulnerable people from atrocities, and cautions about the past effectiveness of international military interventions in the region,” they wrote. They added that they “pray for all the victims of this conflict, for those who will aid in their relief and resettlement, as well as our enemies, for we desire their good as well as our own.”

 

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