In the run up to the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, churches are reiterating their call for British troops to withdraw from the country and setting out their plans to mark the occasion.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi are amongst those calling on Christians throughout the country to make 19th March, the eve of the start of the war, a day of remembrance, repentance and prayer for the people of Iraq and the role that Britain has played.
In London there will be a vigil at Downing Street. During the vigil prayers will be shared and names of the dead will be read out in public. This will include the names of Iraq people as well as of US and UK military personnel who have been killed in the war.
A number of similar public vigils will be held around the country.
Chris Cole of the Fellowship of Reconciliation said: “This is Holy Week when we remember Jesus path to the Cross – the betrayal, the torture, the abandonment – and so too we remember the people of Iraq and the years of suffering they have experienced through wars, sanctions and now occupation. We will be urging our Government to make reparation for the destruction we have caused and calling on all people of good will to join efforts to being stability and peace to Iraq.”
In February 2003, Quakers joined more than a million people in demonstrating against UK government plans to go to war with Iraq. Quakers said that the war would be dangerous, immoral and unaccountable, and were amongst a number of Christian groups who proposed alternative ways of approaching the problems posed by Saddam Hussein's regime.
Kat Barton of Quaker Peace & Social Witness said: "The experience of Iraq has demonstrated that using war as a method of improving security is ineffective and causes extreme suffering. We feel strengthened in our commitment to work for peace."
Quakers say they will mark the anniversary with renewed determination to seek a peaceful end to the conflict. On 19 March they will join with other Christians in the 'Christian Peace Witness for Iraq' initiative, which will remember the suffering of the Iraqi people.
The United Reformed Church has also called for renewed urgency and vigour to be brought to ending the occupation of Iraq by British and American forces.
The Church points out that the consequences of the military action have been devastating for the people of Iraq, and for families with members serving in the coalition forces.
The Church has consistently voiced its opposition to Britain and America entering Iraq and now describes that decision as “ill-conceived”.
Simon Loveitt, Convenor of the Church and Society committee said “We opposed it then. We oppose it now. It was a foolhardy and immoral incursion which did not have our backing. Nor did it have the backing of millions of people of this country, who still carry a sense of outrage about it”.
A statement approved by the Church’s Mission Council, meeting on 9 March, drew attention to the fact that more than a million Iraqis have been killed, more than four million have been uprooted from their homes and more than three thousand British and American troops have been killed. Concern was expressed that some returning British servicewomen and men have been vilified, simply for doing their duty.
The statement calls for an understanding that “where conflict and tension abound, lasting peace and stability are more likely to emanate from a dismantling of structures that perpetrate injustice or division, than from violence or aggression”. It says the ending of the occupation needs to be based on the development of sustainable security for the people of the region.