London (CNSNews.com) - The leaders of Britain's two largest Christian denominations issued a joint statement Thursday questioning Prime Minister Tony Blair's assertion that there is a moral case for war against Iraq.
The leaders of the Anglican and Catholic churches in Britain said that "doubts still persist about the moral legitimacy as well as the unpredictable humanitarian consequences of a war with Iraq."
Anglican leader Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the leader of Britain's Catholics, Archbishop of Westminster Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, issued the statement after holding discussions on Iraq late Wednesday.
"We recognise that the moral alternative to military action cannot be inaction, passivity, appeasement or indifference," the leaders said.
"It is vital therefore that all sides in this crisis engage through the United Nations fully and urgently in a process, including continued weapons inspections, that could and should render the trauma and tragedy of war unnecessary," they said.
The prime minister has recently been stressing the moral reasons for war against Iraq in face of heavy public opposition to military action.
At a speech he delivered to a Labor Party conference last Saturday as hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters marched through London, Blair said: "The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam."
"Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane," he said. "Many of the people marching will say they hate Saddam. But the consequences of taking their advice is that he stays in charge of Iraq."
The prime minister has also tried to concentrate attention on Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses rather than focusing exclusively on U.N. weapons inspections.
Earlier this week, his office released a series of letters and emails written by Iraqi exiles detailing the cruelty of Saddam's regime.
Those arguments have failed to convince church leaders. But in their joint statement, Williams and Murphy-O'Connor also called on Saddam to comply with the will of the international community
"We strongly urge the government of Iraq to demonstrate forthwith its unequivocal compliance with U.N. resolutions on weapons of mass destruction," they said.
Blair, a practicing Christian, will meet with Pope John Paul II this weekend. The Pope has staunchly opposed a war in Iraq.
Britain upgraded its travel warnings to Iraq, Kuwait and Israel on Wednesday, urging citizens to leave Iraq immediately and to leave the other two countries if their presence was not essential.
"If you are considering going to Iraq, you should be aware that British nationals were used as hostages during the 1990-91 crisis by the Iraqi regime, being held where their safety was at most risk," the Foreign Office said.
There are about 150 to 250 Britons in Iraq, according to the Foreign Office. Some are anti-war protesters and others work for charities and aid agencies.
Last Sunday, a convoy carrying about 65 anti-war protesters arrived in Iraq after setting off from London last month.
There are an estimated 4,500 Britons in Kuwait and up to 70,000 in Israel and the occupied territories.
See Earlier Story:
Ex-US Marine Organizes 'Human Shields' In Iraq (24 Jan. 2003)
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