Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moinesby Bishop Richard E. Pates

In March 2013, I visited Iraq to attend the installation of Monsignor Louis Sako as the new Chaldean Catholic Patriarch. During that visit, I had a brief, yet startling, introduction to the country in the aftermath of dictatorship, invasion, occupation and civil war. The comments of my Iraqi interlocutors are engraved in my memory. Many insisted “the Americans ruined Iraq” and “the Americans ruined the church.”

The tragedy of Iraq today could have been predicted given U.S. policy decisions in 2003. Many warned that the invasion would lead not only to the death and destruction inevitable in war, but to wider economic, political and social tragedies for Iraq, the United States and the global community. The Holy See and U.S. bishops were prominent among those voices, basing their concerns on the church’s moral teaching on war, peace and international relations.

Iraqi Shiite fighters parade with weapons and national flags on June 21, 2014 in the capital, Baghdad. Shiite fighters paraded in Baghdad and south Iraq in a dramatic show of force aimed at Sunni militants who overran swathes of territory in a crisis threatening to rip the country apart.  AFP PHOTO
Iraqi Shiite fighters parade with weapons and national flags on June 21, 2014 in the capital, Baghdad. AFP PHOTO

This review of the church’s engagement with U.S. policy in Iraq is meant to help ensure that the moral obligations and limits on our nation’s conduct in the world will not again be ignored. In the future, we must ensure that our foreign policy is morally sound, cognizant of the consequences of U.S. action and thus better able to advance security, stability and a just peace.

Before March 2003, certainly, Iraq was a country in crisis. Its government was a threat to its own people and its neighbors. While decrying the harmful impact of U.N. economic sanctions on innocent Iraqis, the bishops wrote in November 1998: “The Iraqi government has a duty to stop its internal repression, to end its threats to peace, to abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and to respect the legitimate role of the United Nations in ensuring that it does so.”…

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