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Iraq intervention meets just war conditions

  • 15 October 2014

The Catholic Church has reflected long and hard on the use of violence, and the theory of just war has evolved as a way of laying out the conditions under which a way may be justified morally. It could be argued that no other system of analysis has come close in defining such an approach to war. 

The just war theory posits a number of key conditions. A war must be defensive in nature and be undertaken by a legitimate authority. The damage sustained ‘must be lasting, grave and certain’ in nature so as to justify a military response. War must be the last resort in addressing such damage. There must be a serious prospect of success, and the principle of proportionality must be observed in the waging of war. 

While the principles are relatively clear, applying them to particular contexts leaves room for different judgments and opinions. I would argue that the intervention in Iraq, and to a lesser extent, in Syria, meet the conditions of just war theory. The case against ISIS in terms of it being an aggressive force inflicting lasting, grave and certain damage is compelling. 

Millions of Iraqis and Syrians have been displaced and there is widespread hunger. There has been a deliberate policy of ethnic and religious cleansing: ancient Christian communities have been expelled, and the Yazhidi minority, who pose no threat to any group by virtue of their small numbers and isolation, have been particularly targeted for extermination. There has also been systemic cultural cleansing of many historic sites such as the Green Church in Tikrit, the tomb of Jonah and Shia shrines and mosques. 

Women have been targeted, with rape used as weapon of terror and women, and girls, sold into sexual slavery and forced marriages. There has been forced genital circumcision of both males and females. Crucifixions and beheadings have been employed as a method of control, such as the beheading of the prominent human rights lawyer, Samira Salih al-Nuaim. Captured prisoners of war have been summarily executed. Millions of Shia, Christians, Kurds, and others, are in harm’s way in what is potentially a humanitarian disaster on a scale similar to that of Kampuchea’s killing fields or the butchery of Rwanda. The humanitarian argument for military intervention is compelling. 

Moreover, the genuine danger to world peace is also a persuasive argument for intervention: a Sunni-Shia bloodbath could plunge the Middle East into war as Saudi Arabia