The head of the leading US ecumenical body, the National Council of Churches USA, has described the call for more troops to be sent to Iraq as "morally unsupportable".
President George W. Bush is promising a "surge" in troops in the war-torn country, ostensibly to help quell sectarian violence and stabilize Baghdad.
"This escalation of troop presence only promises to guarantee an escalation in American and Iraqi deaths", says the Rev Dr Bob Edgar of NCCUSA today. The council brings together mainstream American denominations with a combined membership of 45 million.
He continued: "Particularly in the wake of the barbaric execution of Saddam Hussein - an act that reflects not the ideals of democracy and justice, but rather mocks them - and an act that promises only to breed more violence, as only a violent act can - one would think that the United States would immediately seek to bring about a change of policy. Sending more troops is not a change in policy, nor is it even a change in strategy; it is more of the same."
Dr Edgar's statement continues in full as follows:
"A change in policy was what the November  election results were all about. And certainly a change in policy was the bottom-line recommendation of the Iraq Study Group, a collection of men and women chosen for their collective expertise and wisdom. Instead, the President has chosen to ignore both the electorate and the Iraq Study Group.
"Given a chance to build broad consensus on a change of policy under the cover of the ISG Report, we have the makings of yet another divisive debate on whether or not the US should put more lives in harm's way. It seems that we are fated never to learn an important lesson of the Vietnam era - that US leadership in the world does not depend on the continuation of failed policies - a lesson that became crystal clear during our recent funeral recollections of President Gerald Ford and his leadership."
"It is time for moral strength, not military power, to take precedence in the US plan for Iraq.
"It is time to recognize the failure of a military policy that is not promoting freedom, not ending terrorism, not building up the Iraqi nation, not bringing security to the region, and not making the world safer.
"It is time - and here we agree with the President - to insist on political benchmarks for the Iraqi government, and to provide reconstruction aid to the Iraqi people, if it is not already too late. But the benchmarks must be achievable, and this time the disbursement of aid must be transparent."
"It is time to enter into respectful negotiations with those countries in the region that can exert influence on Iraq; to attend to the central issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and to lead the United Nations Security Council in enforcing restrictions on arms proliferation in the region.
"And above all, it is time, not to send more troops, but to start bringing our troops home.
Dr Edgar concluded: "The 'surge' as recommended by the President is immoral. What we do not need is an assertion of more military strength. What we need is the strength of basic moral conviction."
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