The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has expressed concern about the safety of historic Christian communities in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, given current tensions in the region and the continuing consequences of Western policy.
Dr Williams expressed his concerns in an article in The Times Newspaper yesterday, and in an interview with BBC Radio 4 from Jerusalem ‚Äì before returning to Britain from a trip to what is traditionally called the Holy Land with three other English church leaders representing between them the Anglican, Catholic, Free Church and Orthodox communities.
‚ÄúWhat we have seen in the last year or so has been attacks on Christian priests, the murder of some [clergy] and the massive departure of large numbers of Christians from Iraq,‚Äù said Dr Williams, spiritual head of the world‚Äôs 77 million Anglicans.
He continued; ‚ÄúThat has something to do with the way in which Christians can now easily get branded as pro-Western, as unreliable allies in the region. The situation has got worse since the fall of Saddam Hussein.‚Äù
The Archbishop has described British policy in Iraq as ‚Äúshort-sighted‚Äù, a view shared by the great majority of foreign policy analysts, and illustrated in a recent report on PM Tony Blair‚Äôs foreign policy from the influential think tank Chatham House, formerly the Royal Institute for International Affairs
The adviser on international law at Chatham House is Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the former number two legal adviser to the British government who resigned over the doctoring of an opinion on the legality or otherwise of the 2003 war in Iraq.
The Foreign Office was quick to rebut Dr Williams‚Äô comments. Mr Blair and his advisers have steadfastly refused to listen to criticism of their policy from regional experts, the churches, NGOs, other governments, senior military figures and peace campaigners.
Though the religious right in the USA has backed President Bush‚Äôs military adventurism and his use of Christian language to justify it, the vast majority of the world‚Äôs churches opposed the war and occupation in Iraq.
Christianity originated in the Middle East and is indigenous to the region. However extreme Islamists have sometimes sought to portray it as an alien faith allied to the ‚Äòcrusader‚Äô West.