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Letter to Prime Minister regarding "war on terror"


This letter was sent by Mennonite Central Committee Canada, a partner organization.

March 12, 2002

The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien,
Prime Minister of Canada
Government of Canada
Ottawa, ON

Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Government of Canada
Ottawa, ON

Dear Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Graham;

We are deeply concerned about the prospect of a US-led military action against Iraq aimed at bringing about a "regime change". We commend you for opposing this course of action and urge you to make every effort to dissuade the American government from pursuing it.

Our organization is one of only a few western NGOs who are active with relief and development work in Iraq. We sent some supplies earlier in the 1990s and in 1998 we started to have volunteers, including Canadian citizens, stationed there. They oversee our work which is in agriculture, education, and health care. Members of our staff from Canada have visited Iraq a number of times, most recently in mid-February of this year.

Our visitors and our staff stationed there have been deeply moved by the situation of the people. The Iraqi people suffered through eight years of the war with Iran, through the 1991 Gulf War and the suppression that followed, and through twelve years of sanctions. Most have become impoverished. Many have died. The sanctions are believed to have contributed to at least half a million deaths, largely by preventing the importation of parts needed for repairing the infrastructure relating to water, sanitation, electricity, transportation, health care, and other necessities.

We recognize that there is considerable debate on the extent of the Iraqi government's responsibility for this tragic situation. A more immediate question, however, is whether military action seeking a regime change would make things better. We believe it would not, for the following reasons.

  • It would almost certainly claim thousands of lives, and destroy homes, property, and infrastructure.
  • Given the Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other divisions within Iraqi society, military action might well cause some groups to break away from the country, enter into new alignments, and contribute to regional instability and perhaps to other wars.
  • It would almost certainly deepen the divide between the West and the Arab world where many would see it as another case of western domination and manipulation of which Iraq's history over the last hundred years already has many examples.
  • By showing that military might and alliances with outside powers are key factors that groups need in order to gain governmental power, such an action would send a most unfortunate message to other societies and governments.
  • When societies go to war they tend to undergo more intense self-identity affirmations. This has worrisome implications for the Christian minorities in Arab societies and for Muslim minorities in the West.
  • We recognize that these reasons do not fully answer the specific concern about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. We do not want to minimize this concern but it must be kept in perspective. For this, the following points merit consideration.
  • There were times in the decades of the Cold War when some western leaders exaggerated the threats of foreign powers. We urge you not to allow that to happen in this situation.
  • Though Iraq should comply with international law, including the requirement that it allow UN weapons inspectors to enter and do their work, the obligation to comply with international law extends to all countries - those in the region and elsewhere - and includes some notable non-compliance situations. A more equitable approach in pressing for compliance might change Iraq's response.
  • A more equitable approach would also change the financial arrangements relating to Iraq's debts and compensation obligations. Under the existing arrangements, according to some observers, it might take Iraq 200 years to meet its obligations even if it made strong efforts to do so. A change in these arrangements could increase the incentive for Iraq to comply with international law.
  • The lavish way in which arms are supplied to other countries in the region cannot encourage Iraq to comply with the disarmament requirements to which it is subject. A more equitable approach would seek region-wide disarmament.
  • Arab countries should be encouraged to undertake more vigorous diplomatic efforts to address the Iraq issues. Increased efforts on their part would change the dynamic and perhaps open new possibilities.

We urge you to pursue these avenues. A reading of developments leading up to the 1991 Gulf War raises the possibility that such an approach might have prevented that war.

We appreciate that Canada has taken positive steps, particularly during its recent term on the UN Security Council. We refer to the accommodation, in Resolution 1284, of some of Iraq's concerns about the structure of the weapons inspection commission, to improvements in the Oil For Food program, and to the diplomatic visits into Iraq by representatives from the Canadian embassy in Jordan and from Canada. We understand that Canada halted these visits after September 11. Their resumption could be helpful at this critical time.

Even though the approach we are suggesting may not guarantee a resolution of the issues, we would still urge you to continue opposing the war option. Wars often take unanticipated turns, solve fewer problems than expected, and unleash unforeseen negative dynamics with far-reaching consequences. People in Iraq and in the region are very worried, as are many in Canada. The present situation is certainly not ideal but, in our view, a war would make things much worse.

We pray that God will give you wisdom and courage as you deal with this and other issues that face our country and our world.


Donald Peters
Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee Canada