BY SIMON CALDWELL
CHURCH GROUPS continued to plead for restraint this week as Prime Minister Tony Blair published evidence against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that could lead to a second Gulf War.
As a 50-page dossier was presented to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Cafod, the overseas aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales which has been working in Iraq for the last 10 years, urged MPs to seek a peaceful solution to the mounting crisis in the Middle East.
George Gelber, Cafod head of public policy, said: "We urge MPs to think very carefully about the humanitarian consequences of military action in Iraq where the people are already suffering from effects of more than 10 years of economic sanctions.
"A full-scale war in Iraq would inflict a very heavy toll on the civilian population. The health system and hospitals, already creaking under the strain of sanctions, could not begin to cope with the thou
sands of civilian casualties that bombing and war would cause.
"A war would also create tens of thousands of refugees. It is the people of Iraq who would suffer."
Cafod also supported a "united NGO statement" signed by Save the Children UK, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Tearfund, Help Age International, Islamic Relief and 4Rs, which warned of huge civilian casualites.
"We urge the British Government not merely to take effective steps to avoid exacerbating the current humanitarian crisis but to seek ways to improve the humanitarian situation, while pursuing a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.
"The current focus on the Government's 'dossier of evidence', weapons inspectors and Iraqi disarmament should not detract from the urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in Iraq for the past 12 years."
In Parliament, however, MPs heard how Saddam had continued to develop chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction and had drawn up military plans for their use.
The dossier, compiled from intelligence and arms inspectors reports, said Saddam had tried to acquire nuclear weapons, illegally retained 20 medium-range missiles, started to develop longer range ballistic missiles and learnt how to conceal equipment and documentation from weapons inspectors.
Mr Blair told the House that the "policy of containment" of Iraq had not worked and said: "It is unprecedented for the Government to publish this kind of document, but in the light of the debate about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction I wanted to share with the British public the reasons why I believe this issue to be a current and serious threat to the UK national interest."
He added: "Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction and with them the ability to inflict real damage upon the region and the stability of the world." The debate came just a week after Iraq signalled its willingness to allow weapons inspectors to return to the coun ty.
That move was welcomed by Pope John Paul II who said in his general audience that it was "good news".
The Holy Father urged Christians to continue to pray for peace.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later said he did not believe that a unilateral military attack on Iraq would be morally justifiable under the current circumstances, saying the United Nations should make the final decision.
"It is necessary that the community of nations makes the decision, not a particular power," he said. "The fact that the United Nations is seeking the way to avoid war, seems to me to demonstrate with enough evidence that the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save."