pakistani christians fear iraq strike reprisals

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    Bush has squandered all the sympathy and support that came after 9/11 from all over the world and has isolated the US from its allies.

    Leaders of Pakistan's Christian community, victims of a chain of deadly terror attacks by Islamic militants, have written to US President George W Bush warning of a violent backlash if war is waged on Iraq.

    State media reports the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP) and the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference have made a joint petition.

    "We, the leaders of all the churches in Pakistan, are concerned that should the war begin it will provoke a global backlash of people who consider the people of Iraq as victims of aggression," the churches wrote.

    Signed by Archbishop Lawrence Saldhana and NCCP general secretary Victor Azariah, the letter raises fears of civilian casualties and the use of weapons of mass destruction.

    It particularly highlights the risk of violent reprisals.

    "It is very likely that nuclear or biological or chemical weapons will probably be used by whichever side begins to lose," said the letter.

    "Even more horrifying is the likelihood that the war may not be limited to Iraqi soil.

    "It can spill over, not just to the neighbouring Gulf States, but can lead to devastating reprisals by terrorists who are located all over the world, even in the United States."

    Pakistani Islamic militants incensed at the US bombing of neighbouring Afghanistan have carried out 11 separate attacks against Christian and Western targets since October 2001.

    Ten of them were deadly, claiming 70 lives.

    Four churches, a Christian school for foreign missionaries' children and a Christian welfare organisation are among those targeted.

    The US launched its military campaign to wipe out the former Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda network it harboured, in response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks by Al Qaeda operatives in the United States.

    Christian leaders in Pakistan have complained their community, representing less than 3 per cent of the population of 145 million, is bearing the brunt of Islamic fury over the US-led bombing in Afghanistan.

    "As Christian leaders of Pakistan, we strongly urge the US President George Bush and all those who are poised for war, to use every alternative means to settle the problem.

    "Violence breeds violence. A nuclear holocaust must be avoided, lest the medicine prove to be worse than the disease."

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