BY LtiCY LETHBRIDGE rE VATICAN THIS week issued a strongly-worded condemnation of the US attack on Baghdad.
Vatic an spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Vatican "obviously deplores the loss of innocent human lives, and hopes that an honest dialogue can be established between the US and Iraq as the only way to peace". Navarro-Valls went on to warn that the attack risked more tension in the Gulf.
The Vatican issued the statement two days after US forces fired 23 cruise missiles against a Baghdad government intelligence centre. Iraq reported that eight civilians were killed and 12 wounded when some of the missiles landed in residential areas.
Although the Vatican has expressed its concern over Iraqi civilian deaths, it was cautious about taking a stand on the attack as it "does not know the causes that may have determined it". The United States claimed the operation was a reprisal for an alleged Iraqi plot to kill former US President George Bush.
Clinton said he ordered the attack after receiving "compelling evidence" of Iraqi responsibility in an alleged car-bomb plot against Bush while the former president visited Kuwait earlier this year.
In a separate comment on Vatican radio, a Vatican official said: "Whatever its rights and wrongs, the American retaliation risks provoking new tensions in the Gulf and dampens fragile hopes of a better relations with the new administration in Washington."
Catholic peace groups and Church leaders have condemned the US operation. A spokesman for Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace movement, said this week that "the act is indefensible in itself and can only lead to a further breakdown in relations between the West and the Middle East as a whole, aggravating the cycle of violence in our world".
Legal experts said that President Clinton would find it difficult to sustain his claim that the raid was an act of self-defence in accordance with article SI of the UN charter.
In the house of Commons. criticism of the Government's support for the US attack was a clear sign of the break in cross-party consensus over military action against Iraq that had prevailed during the Gulf War.
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd defended the attack this week in the face of fierce criticism from the opposition benches. Mr Hurd said that the Clinton administration found that the evidence of an assassination plot justified a raid. "This operation was a justi
fied and proportionate exercise of the right of selfdefence and a necessary warning to Iraq that state terrorism cannot and will not be tolerated," he said.
Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, George Robertson, responded that the raid, was "dubious in legality, questionable in morality, haphazard in its military impact and potentially devastating in diplomacy".
Other opposition MPs also angrily condemned the attack and Labour MP Tam Dalyell said people would be "simply nauseated by the alacrity with which the Prime Minister endorsed the actions of President Clinton".
Meanwhile, there are fears for the safety of three Britons currently held in Iraqi prisons. Mr Zaid Haidar, Iraqi ambassador to the EC, said that the release of the Britons may have been delayed by Britain's support for the attack.