U.S. launches Iraq campaign; 'last resort,' SBC leaders say

WASHINGTON (BP)--United States air strikes targeting Saddam Hussein early March 20 in Baghdad launched a military campaign that Southern Baptist leaders called a "last resort."

The U.S. attack -- surprising in its nature -- came at about 5:30 a.m. Baghdad time with the use of missiles and bombs in an effort to take out Hussein, thereby removing the head of the Iraqi regime and hopefully minimizing the length and casualties of war. U.S. authorities were uncertain of their success, leaving open the possibility one of the dictator's body doubles actually appeared on Iraqi TV after the initial military action.

The attack began about 90 minutes after the arrival of the 48-hour deadline President Bush had given Hussein and his sons to leave the country.

Speaking from the White House about 45 minutes after the strikes began, Bush said U.S. and coalition forces were "in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."

"Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force, the president said. "And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory."

Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham and ethics leader Richard Land both described the military effort as a "last resort" and called for prayer.

"Removing Saddam Hussein from power is a just and necessary action after 12 years of lies and deception," Graham said in a written statement. "This war is 'just' because its cause is liberation not occupation, protection not aggression, peace not appeasement."

Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, said he, "along with millions of Southern Baptists, support our president's decision."

Recalling the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Graham said, "America will continue to respond to threats of evil with courageous resolve. Southern Baptists will embrace and engage this global challenge with faith and renewed commitment to evangelism and missions. We will unite in prayer and faith."

Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the United States and its coalition allies "have been waiting 12 years for Saddam Hussein to abide by the civilized world's demand that he dispossess himself of his weapons of mass destruction. He has consistently and relentlessly refused to do so. Finally, we come to a moment of last resort, and the United States is now leading a coalition of more than 40 nations from around the world that have not only perceived the danger but have the courage of their convictions to act upon them and disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi people.

"We should pray for all the soldiers, sailors and airmen involved in the liberation of Iraq and their families, as well as the Iraqi people," Land said.

Graham called for pastors and churches "to designate days of prayer and fasting." He also encouraged families to "join together in personal and private intercession."

Southern Baptists "will enlist prayer warriors as special forces to pray for our troops and their families," Graham said. "We pray for peace and the possibility of a better world where tyranny and terrorism are eliminated.

"We remember our chaplains who are ministering God's grace and strength," he said. "We pray for the Iraqi people and the people of the Middle East that there will be a minimum of bloodshed. We pray for revival and spiritual awakening in our beloved nation. We ask God for protection from terrorism at home and abroad. In these urgent of days we will seize the opportunity to advance the kingdom of God by sharing the message of Jesus and his love."

Graham also wrote a letter to Southern Baptist chaplains serving the U.S. forces in the Iraqi campaign. Graham offered his support "with that of the entire Southern Baptist family as you proclaim Christ and minister in his name during these difficult days."

Bush, in his four-minute address to the nation, told military families, "Millions of Americans are praying with you for the safety of your loved ones and for the protection of the innocent.

"I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.

"We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice," the president said. "We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people."

Hussein had committed a "final atrocity against his people" by seeking to use Iraqi citizens as military shields, Bush said.

"The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder," the president said. "We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."

The ERLC's Land has defended since early last fall a military effort in Iraq as meeting the criteria for a "just war" under the centuries-old theory supported by many Christians. The American Jewish Committee also expressed its support for the campaign after the president's speech.

Other groups, including the National Council of Churches and Churches for Middle East Peace, maintained their opposition to a war. It "deeply regrets the decision to begin military action" from a concern for casualties to U.S. troops and the Iraqis, Churches for the Middle East said in a written statement. The group is a coalition that includes the NCC, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church.

The United States worked in the United Nations Security Council for more than four months to produce agreement for a military disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological agents. France and Russia, both permanent Security Council members, had threatened to veto any resolution calling for force. An ultimatum for the U.N. to act March 17 failed to gain the support necessary, leading to Bush's issuance of a deadline to Hussein that evening.

Southern Baptist workers are partnering with the Baptist Society of Jordan to aid Iraqi refugees. They distributed 30,000 diapers, formula for 1,000 babies and blankets March 19 in camps established along the Iraq-Jordan border, the International Mission Board reported.


Mark Kelly contributed to this article. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BUSH & CABINET.

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