An Australian church leader has said his country should spend as much on reconstructing war-torn Iraq as its did on its military operations there - writes Kim Cain.
The Rev Gregor Henderson, president of the Uniting Church in Australia, made his comments following an announcement that Australia had ended combat operations in Iraq.
"We are asking the government to spend as much on rebuilding, reconstructing and healing the desperately battered nation over the next five years, as was spent on the military effort," Henderson said.
Australia's defence department announced on 1 June that the country's 550 combat troops had begun returning home from their deployment in Iraq.
Henderson said his church originally opposed its country's involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, now that soldiers are coming home, he believed Australia must stay and help rebuild the country. The Uniting Church is Australia's third largest Christian denomination.
Media reported that the Australian flag was lowered at Tallil airbase near Baghdad on 2 June to mark the completion of Australia's direct involvement in the country. About 1000 troops will remain in the region to help with security and embassy assistance.
Australia's involvement in Iraq was the subject of strong political debate, with the recently elected Labor Party government promising to withdraw the troops that had been sent in 2003 by former prime minister John Howard as a support to Australia's American alliance.
"When Prime Minister John Howard sent Australian troops off to invade Iraq in 2003, the Uniting Church did not agree," Henderson said.
"At that time, Uniting Church leaders also said they hoped Australia would spend as much money on healing and reconstruction in Iraq as on prosecuting the war," Henderson added. "Sadly that has not come to pass and we are disappointed that, once again, more money has been spent on guns than on bread."
It is believed the cost of Australia's military involvement in Iraq was about 3 three billion Australian dollars (US$2.8 billion), with a commitment to reconstruction and forgiveness of foreign debt amounting to about 500 million Australian dollars (US478 million).
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]