Bishops call for dialogue on responsible transition in Iraq

.- The U.S. military should “remain in Iraq only as long as their presence contributes to a responsible transition,” said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement issued yesterday.

The statement was issued by USCCB president Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane during the course of the bishops’ meeting in Baltimore this week.

“The increases in sectarian violence and civil strife have made the challenge of securing a ‘responsible transition’ in Iraq even more urgent today,” the bishops said.

The statement indicates that the Vatican and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly expressed grave moral concerns about military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of invasion and occupation.  However, the statement continues, at this time there is a moral requirement to bring about security within the country.

“The Holy See and our Conference now support broad and necessary international engagement to promote stability and reconstruction in Iraq,” the statement reads. “The intervention in Iraq has brought additional moral responsibilities to help Iraqis to secure and rebuild their country.”

The bishops urged the Bush administration and the new Congress to abandon divisive rhetoric and engage in collaborative dialogue that “honestly assesses the situation in Iraq, acknowledges past difficulties and miscalculations, recognizes and builds on positive advances.”

They listed basic benchmarks for responsible transition in Iraq, including: fostering adequate levels of security; curbing wanton killings, indefensible terrorist attacks, and sectarian violence; strengthening the basic rule of law; promoting economic reconstruction to begin to create employment and economic opportunity for Iraqis; and supporting the further development of political structures and solutions that advance stability, political participation, and respect for religious freedom and basic human rights.

“Ultimately, this work must be done by Iraqis, but the United States and its coalition partners have a moral obligation to continue and intensify efforts with Iraqis … toward achieving these benchmarks,” they said.

The bishops expressed concern about the people of Iraq and particularly the deteriorating situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq. “Their vulnerability is dramatic evidence of the serious and growing dangers facing the entire nation of Iraq,” they said. “Effective efforts are required to end all sectarian violence and to make Iraq secure for persons of all faith communities.”

The bishops also expressed their concern for the military personnel in Iraq and their gratitude for their service. They urged all Catholics to daily for the safety of the military and for their families and offered their support and solidarity to families who have lost loved ones in Iraq.

The bishops’ statement came as President Bush met with his new bipartisan Iraq Study Group to explore options for procuring peace in the country.  The bishops said they hope the new study group will, “help bring about the honest dialogue that our nation needs.”

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