US Religious Leaders, WCC Issue Statements on Violence in Iraq

A Faith Forum on Middle East Policy and the World Council of Churches (WCC) have issued statements on the violence occurring in Iraq. Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, was one of the American church leaders to sign a letter to US President Barack Obama organized by the Faith Forum, that urged alternatives to US military action in Iraq.

The WCC statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council asked for an urgent mission and joint report, including the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, on minority communities in northern Iraq victimized by the “Islamic State.”

Faith Forum letter on Iraq

The Faith Forum on Middle East Policy organized the letter to the President, which had 53 signatures from prominent religious groups, academics, and individual ministers. The letter was dated Aug. 27.

The letter expressed concern about the recent escalation of US military action in Iraq, stating that “while the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, US military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq,” the letter said, in part.

“We believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes,” the letter continued.

The document noted the complex factors that have led to the current crisis in Iraq and Syria, including “decades of US political and military intervention,” as well as pressure from neighboring countries, and inadequate social programs. It warned against short-term military tactics and violence that will lead to more longterm retributive violence flaring up in the region, and an escalation of armed intervention.

“There are better, more effective, more healthy, and more humanizing ways to protect civilians and to engage this conflict,” the letter said, suggesting “just peace” ways the US and others may begin to transform the conflict including

— stopping the US bombing in Iraq “that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence,”

— providing “robust” humanitarian assistance to those fleeing the violence,

— engaging with the United Nations, Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution,

— supporting community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties,

— strengthening financial sanctions against armed actors in the region–mentioning in particular the Islamic State–by working through the UN Security Council,

— bringing in and investing in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer a buffer for refugees,

— supporting Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level,

— calling for and upholding an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.

The letter noted that “US arms and military assistance to the government forces and ethnic militias in Iraq, in addition to arming Syrian rebel groups, have only fueled the carnage, in part due to weapons intended for one group being taken and used by others. All armed parties have been accused of committing gross violations of human rights. Along with Russia, work with key regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait to take independent initiatives and meaningful steps towards an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict.”

Find the full text of the letter and all the signatures to it at .

WCC statement to the UN

The World Council of Churches has asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an urgent mission and joint report, including the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, on minority communities in northern Iraq victimized by the “Islamic State” (IS).

A WCC release said the statement comes after a visit to the Kurdistan region of Iraq by a WCC delegation that met with displaced people from Christian, Yazidi, and Kaka’i (Sufi) communities, church leaders, and those doing humanitarian relief. “We were able to speak to and take testimony from a large number of people displaced from Mosul, the Nineveh Plain, and other places now under the control of the IS,” said delegation leader Peter Prove, WCC director for international affairs. “Their stories tell of the Islamic State’s inhumanly brutal, violent, coercive, and repressive efforts to eliminate any and all diversity in society in the region.”

The statement urges increased humanitarian support for the displaced population, a further binding Security Council resolution containing effective measures to deprive IS of financial and material support, urges an “end to the culture of impunity in Iraq and in the whole region,” and suggests a special tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq and Syria.

In particular it calls attention to the plight of approximately 100 people known to have remained in Qaraqosh, a town taken by IS. “These people are indeed being held captive,” reads the statement, in part. “We fear especially for the women and girls in this group, having heard accounts of women held captive in cages, and bought and sold as slaves by IS jihadis.”

Beyond the humanitarian crisis, the statement raises concern about the collective suffering of religious minorities and longer-term consequences, pointing to the city of Mosul, which has been the home of Christians since the dawn of Christianity, but has been emptied of its indigenous Christian population while churches, monasteries and sacred texts were being destroyed.

The statement was presented Sept. 1 at the UN Human Rights Council Special Session on the Human Rights Situation in Iraq. See .

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