The threat of war with Iraq brought protests from both sides of the Atlantic last week as a contingent of women announced their intention to conduct a four-month, 24-hour-a-day vigil near the White House, major religious organizations urged a peaceful resolution to the Iraq crisis, and the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) threatened legal action to prevent its government from attacking Iraq without explicit United Nations approval.

The White House vigil, organized by a coalition of women who belong to organizations such as the National Organization for Women and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, is scheduled to last until International Women’s Day, March 8. At least six women will stay at the site in four-day shifts, resting on the ground in sleeping bags or on benches.

Fifty-three-year-old Anise Jenkins, a Washington, D.C., activist who works as a secretary, told reporters the protesters were “the mothers and wives and sisters off those who will be killed for oil.”

Diane Wilson, a commercial fisherman from Texas who has never been able to afford health insurance, said she wants the Bush administration to spend more money on health care than war. “I want to tell Bush and Congress exactly how we feel in small-town America,” she said.

In a strongly worded statement issued Nov. 16, the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches (NCC) called on President Bush and Congress to do “all possible without going to war” to resolve the crisis. On Nov. 13, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed “serious concerns and questions” about the Bush administration’s rush to war. A few days earlier, Bartholomew the First, the Ecumenical Patriarch who leads some 360 million Orthodox Christians around the world, warned of “catastrophic consequences” if the U.S. and Britain attacked Iraq.

The NCC, an ecumenical consortium of 36 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox denominations including more than 50 million people in 140,000 congregations across the U.S., urged the President and Congress to recommit the United States to international institutions like the United Nations and to the development of common security for the world. The council expressed its intention “to work together with all peace-loving people … including dialogue with our congregations, with our public officials, visits to the people of Iraq, and consultation with Christian churches throughout the world, and to pray that the Lord will grant wisdom to our leaders as they face awesome responsibilities of life and death.”

The NCC said it opposes war against Iraq for two basic reasons: “In the short run, it will be an act of death and destruction … In the longer run, it will make far harder the building and healing of the planetary community, which our religious traditions demand. Our opposition to preemptive, unilateral war against Iraq is grounded in a broader vision of national security – one that recognizes that the true threats are more economic, environmental, and social than military.”

The Catholic bishops said in their statement, issued during their November meeting in Washington, D.C., “Based on the facts that are known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature … [W]e fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force.”

Both organizations said they recognized that a decision not to take military action “could have its own negative consequences,” but they were also concerned that war against Iraq “might provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent, could impose terrible new burdens on an already long-suffering civilian population and could lead to wider conflict and instability in the region.”

Bartholomew the First, the Orthodox “pope,” said Nov. 10, “There is a general reaction [against war] in Europe and in the United States itself, and I think finally we will be able to avoid a new war with consequences, not only for the region but for the whole world that we cannot foresee.”

The patriarch’s intervention is particularly significant because his headquarters are in Istanbul, Turkey, where he has made dialogue with Islam one of his main priorities.

The British disarmament group said it had sent a letter to the British Prime Minister defense secretary and foreign secretary, asking for a written guarantee that Britain would not use force against Iraq without a new reolution from the UN Security Council. The letter threatens legal action if the guarantee is not received within a week.

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Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries