53 National Religious Groups, Academics, and Ministers Urge Alternatives to U.S. Military Action in Iraq

August 27, 2014
Dear President Obama:
As religious communities, leaders, and academics, we write to express our deep concern over the recent escalation of U.S. military action in Iraq. While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.
Pope Francis has affirmed that “peacemaking is more courageous than warfare,” and more recently said that “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop;’ I don’t say bomb, make war—stop him.” But how we ask?
In addition to the complex factors spilling over from the civil war in Syria and pressure from other neighbors, decades of U.S. political and military intervention, coupled with inadequate social reconciliation programs, have significantly contributed to the current crisis in Iraq. More bombing will ultimately mean more division, bloodshed, recruitment for extremist organizations, and a continual cycle of violent intervention.
The current state of crisis and the breakdown of state institutions in Libya provide another stark example of the failure of a militarized strategy. Like Libya, the air strikes in Iraq will ultimately fail to build and maintain sustainable peace in the long-term.
We understand and deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians. However, even when tactics of violent force yield a short term displacement of the adversary’s violence, such violence toward armed actors is often self-perpetuating, as the retributive violence that flares up in response will only propitiate more armed intervention in a tit-for-tat escalation without addressing the root causes of the conflict. We see this over and over again. It is not “necessary” to continue down this road of self-destruction, as Pope Francis called the hostilities of war the “suicide of humanity.”
There are better, more effective, more healthy and more humanizing ways to protect civilians and to engage this conflict. Using an alternative frame, here are some “just peace” ways the United States and others can not only help save lives in Iraq and the region, but also begin to transform the conflict and break the cycle of violent intervention. To begin, the United States should take the following steps:

  • Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existencePage 2 of 7 among its supporters.
  • Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence. Provide food and much needed supplies in coordination with the United Nations.
  • Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq. Ensure a significantly more inclusive Iraqi government along with substantive programs of social reconciliation to interrupt the flow and perhaps peel-back some of the persons joining the Islamic State. In the diplomatic strategy, particularly include those with influence on key actors in the Islamic State.
    • Work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria are intricately connected and should be addressed holistically. Return to the Geneva peace process for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria and expand the agenda to include regional peace and stability. Ensure Iran’s full participation in the process.
  • Support community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties. For example, experts1 have suggested strategies such as parallel institutions, dispersed disruptions, and economic non-cooperation.
  • Strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region by working through the UN Security Council. For example, disrupting the Islamic State’s $3 million/day oil revenue from the underground market would go a long way toward blunting violence.
  • Bring in and significantly invest in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer some buffer for displaced persons and refugees, both for this conflict in collaboration with Iraqi’s and for future conflicts.
  • Call for and uphold an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. U.S. arms and military assistance to the government forces and ethnic militias in Iraq, in addition to arming Syrian rebel groups, have only fueled the carnage, in part due to weapons intended for one group being taken and used by others. All armed parties have been accused of committing gross violations of human rights. Along with Russia, work with key regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait to take independent initiatives and meaningful steps towards an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict.
  • Support Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level. Deep sectarian and ethnic divisions have long been exacerbated by various factors, including the U.S. military intervention in 2003. Sustainable peace will require peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts from the ground up.

With hope, deep-felt prayers, and a splash of courage, we ask you to move us beyond the way of war and into the frontier of just peace responses to violent conflict.
Susan T. Henry-Crowe, MDiv.DD
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church
Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Janet Mock, CSJ
Executive Director
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Shan Cretin
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee
Rev. Julia Brown Karimu
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. James Moos
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Sandy Sorensen
Director, DC office
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Eli McCarthy, PhD
Director of Justice and Peace
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Patrick Carolan
Executive Director
Franciscan Action Network
Stanley J. Noffsinger,
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren
Sr. Patricia Chappell
Executive Director
Pax Christi USA
Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International
Gerry G. Lee
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Scott Wright
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Rev. Michael Neuroth
Policy Advocate for International Issues
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Very Rev. Michael Duggan, MM
U.S. Regional Superior of Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers
Very Rev. Carl Chudy, SX
Provincial Superior of Xaverian Missionaries in U.S.
Very Rev. Domenico Di Raimondo, M.Sp.S.
Provincial Superior of Missionaries of the Holy Spirit
Christ the Priest Province
Provincial Council of the Clerics of St. Viator (Viatorians)
María Teresa Dávila, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics
Andover Newton Theological School
Bill Barbieri, PhD
Professor of Religion and Culture and Moral Theology/Ethics
Catholic University
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
Professor of Theology
Chicago Theological Seminary
Sr. Marianne Farina, CSC
Ethics Professor
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology
Laurie Johnston, PhD
Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies
Emmanuel College
Rev. Priscilla Eppinger, PhD
Associate Professor of Religion
Graceland University/Community of Christ Seminary
Peter Phan, PhD
Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought
Georgetown University
Fr. Ray Kemp, S.T.L.
Theology Professor
Georgetown University
Francis X. Clooney, SJ
Parkman Professor of Divinity
Director, The Center for the Study of World Religions
Harvard University
Betty Reardon, PhD
Founding Director Emeritus
International Institute on Peace Education
Maureen O’Connell, PhD
Associate Professor of Theology and Chair of Department of Religion
LaSalle University
Amir Hussain, PhD
Professor of Theological Studies
Loyola Marymount University
Kathleen Maas Weigert, PhD
Carolyn Farrell, BVM, Professor of Women and Leadership
Loyola University Chicago
David Cortright, PhD
Director of Policy Studies
Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
Notre Dame University
Margaret Pfeil, PhD
Assistant Professor of Theology/Ethics
Notre Dame University
John Berkman, PhD
Professor of Moral Theology
Regis College, University of Toronto
Gerald W. Schlabach
Professor of Theology
University of St. Thomas
John Sniegocki, PhD
Associate Professor of Christian Ethics
Director, Peace Studies Minor
Xavier University
Kathryn Getek Soltis, PhD
Director, Center for Peace and Justice Education
Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics
Villanova University
Suzanne C. Toton, EdD
Theology and Religious Studies Department
Villanova University
Rev. Louis Arceneaux, C.M.
Promoter of Peace and Justice
Western Province, Congregation of the Mission, USA
Fr. Robert Bossie, SCJ
Priests of the Sacred Heart
Chicago, IL
Fr. John A. Coleman, S.J.
Society of Jesus, Saint Ignatius Parish
San Francisco, CA
Fr. John Converset, MCCJ
Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation
North American Province of Comboni Missionaries
Doreen Glynn, CSJ
Justice Coordinator
Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Albany Province
Bro. Michael Gosch, CSV
Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation Director
Clerics of St. Viator (Viatorians)
Jude A. Huntz, Director
Office for Peace and Justice
Archdiocese of Chicago
Bro. Brian McLauchlin, SVD
Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation Promoter
Bro. Frank O’Donnell, SM
Brian Reavey
Bro. Jerry Sullivan, SM
Rev. Dr. Peter A. Wells
Justice LED Organizer
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Bro. Stan Zubek, SM
– Secretary of State John Kerry
– U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power
– Department of State, Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall
– USAID, Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance
Nancy Lindborg
– Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Shaun Casey
– Special Assistant to the President for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Melissa Rogers