LONDON, Dec 23: Almost all the senior clergymen in the country led by the Archbishop of Canterbury have come out with scathing criticism of Britain’s Iraq policy charging the UK government of placing Christians in the Middle East at risk through its actions in Iraq.

Dr Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican Church writing in the Times on Saturday has called the government’s Iraq policy as ‘short-sighted’ and ‘ignorant’ and accused Tony Blair and the US of endangering the lives and futures of many thousands of Christians in the Middle East, who are regarded by their countrymen as supporters of the “crusading West”.

Dr Williams, who was visiting Israel with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian, the Armenian Primate of Britain and David Coffey, the head of the Baptist World Alliance, wrote that there had been a growing number of attacks on Christians.

He said the migration of Christian populations from countries where they had formerly existed amicably with the Muslim majority “fuels the myth in East and West - that Islam can’t live with other faiths”.

Dr Williams has been backed by bishops across the Church of England, who say that Christians in the Middle East are now paying the price for the “chaos” in Iraq after the British Government failed to heed their warnings about the consequences of military action.

“The results are now painfully adding to what was already a difficult situation for Christian communities across the region,” he wrote. “The first Christian believers were Middle Easterners. It’s a very sobering thought that we might live to see the last native Christian believers in the region.” In some Middle Eastern countries where Muslim-Christian relations have always been good, he says that extremist attacks on Christians are becoming “notably more frequent”.

Senior bishops threw their weight behind Dr Williams. Dr Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, said: “Nobody takes any notice of what churchmen say about these things. Now this has turned into a very sorrowful ‘I told you so’.”

Dr Wright, who is one of the Church’s top five clerics, said: “We have argued all along that what was being done in our name by our Government, led by the US would have disastrous results.

“The 64-and-a-half thousand dollar question is, what do we do now? We have made a problematic situation far worse. Even if there were changes of government in America and Britain, they will still have to cope with the chaos that has been unleashed.”He called for the UN resources in the region to be strengthened. “Long-term, that is what we must do because it is ridiculous for any one, two or three countries to pretend they can be global policemen in other people’s parts of the world. We desperately need a credible international police force.”

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