In the midst of the awful news of the shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA, of Philando Castile near Minneapolis, MN, and of five Dallas police officers, I pause in the midst of a family vacation to reflect briefly on the Chilcot Inquiry, also known as the Iraq Inquiry, a high-level British government investigation into Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The inquiry amounts to about one million words in twelve volumes. I have not read the report, which is longer than the Bible, but I have followed the news accounts with interest, for in the year preceding the invasion, I was deeply involved in efforts to stop it from taking place.
Just as Iraqi Christians warned an invasion would have dreadful consequences for their community, so too did American Christians. Indeed, Christians around the world cautioned that an attack on Iraq was unnecessary.
No one was defending the horrid regime of Saddam Hussein. Rather, there was general recognition the international weapons inspectors deserved an opportunity to complete their search for the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, that Iraqi forces were not massed on the borders or threatening to attack other nations, that international sanctions had weakened the nation of Iraq over the course of many years, and that the government of Iraq, no matter how tyrannical, was not carrying out genocide of its own people.
Over the course of a number of months from the spring of 2002 until the invasion in March of 2003, churches around the world attempted to stave off war. I participated in National Council of Churches peace delegations to the Middle East, to Iraq, and to Germany. We sent church leaders to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Pope John Paul II, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Indeed, the only international leader who refused to meet with credible church leaders was US President George W. Bush.
On February 15, 2003, we helped coordinate the largest peace march in human history in which 10 million people in 600 cities around the globe opposed the plans to invade Iraq. However, George Bush and Tony Blair, we now know, had made up their minds months earlier to wage aggressive war against Iraq.
In the aftermath, the Christian population of Iraq, numbering some 600,000 people, was decimated, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, millions were displaced, the entire Middle East was destabilized, and Iran won huge influence over Iraq. A greater calamity could not have occurred if it had been planned. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair were never held accountable for their actions.
Church leaders, such as myself, were repeatedly denounced for our opposition to the war on the grounds we were unpatriotic, that we supported Saddam Hussein, and that we simply didn’t know what we were talking about. I learned from this tragedy that the international Christian network of leaders in councils of churches and reputable denominations have extensive knowledge of what is taking place around the world, and are fully capable of making reasoned judgments. Governments would be wise to give heed to the counsel of faith leaders.