Archbishop: Iraq far worse than acknowledged

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has launched a renewed attack on the war in Iraq and called for “urgent attention” to stabilise the country.

Dr Williams, speaking after a visit to Syria last week, said the “terrible damage” wreaked on the region by the war in Iraq was far worse than had so far been acknowledged.

Dr Williams’ comments, in an interview with the BBC, came after he met Iraqi refugees in Syria, many of them still in fear for their lives. Only last month, a new survey claimed that up to 1.2m people might have died because of the conflict.

Dr Williams said any military action against Syria or Iran that would further destabilise the region would be “criminal, ignorant… and potentially murderous folly.”

Referring to those who advocate such action, he said: “I can’t understand what planet such persons are living on when you see the conditions that are already there. The region is still a tinderbox.”

The Foreign Office said in response that it continued to support the Iraqi government “in aiming to bring support to the country”, adding that “there are signs this is having some effects”.

Earlier, Dr Rowan Williams described as “heartbreaking and harrowing” a meeting he held in Syria with Iraqi refugees, mostly members of Christian congregations.

Dr Williams, who met the refugees in a Syrian Orthodox monastery at Ma’aret Sednaya, outside the Syrian capital, said many had told him of family relatives who had been kidnapped, executed or threatened with killing unless they paid ransoms or fled the country.

Among the group the Archbishop met were Areej, aged 23, who had fled with her mother and brother after her uncle was killed and their lives threatened and Bashir, a university lecturer who fled after his 19-year-old son was shot and killed.

Dr Williams said women in Christian communities in Iraq were regularly forced to wear the hijab and were followed as they went to Church, and that many stayed away from church for fear of reprisals.

Speaking on his return to the UK, Dr Williams said that the situation required urgent attention and effort. “Security that will enable these people to return to Iraq depends on a settlement for the whole of that country guaranteeing the liberty and dignity of every minority.”