Most US evangelical leaders still support Iraq war

Most evangelical leaders still support the war in Iraq and want US troops to "stay until the job is done", according to a survey released Monday.

Even those who say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake based on faulty intelligence believe that it would be wrong to now leave, according to the National Association of Evangelicals' (NAE) February 2008 Evangelical Leaders Survey.

"We should not have gone in," said one respondent, who was only identified as a denominational CEO by the NAE. "But we are going to need to stay in long enough to prevent chaos and to stabilise the country."

Other evangelical leaders insisted the war is just, President Bush was right in his decisions, and the US should weather the course.

"Iraq represents that existential threat we have from global Islamic Jihadists," responded another unidentified leader. "We must defeat it in Iraq, Afghanistan and then act preemptively to destroy it wherever it emerges."

Still others said they have no opinion about the start of the war, but believe that the US cannot now just leave.

"Most evangelicals in America subscribe to the theological position called 'Just War Theory,' that it is morally justified to go to war under certain conditions," explained Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, in a statement.

"However, there is also a strong evangelical voice in the 'Peace Church' tradition that opposes all war."

A number of vocal Christians have condemned all violence and point to the Bible saying the New Testament shows that Jesus is opposed to war.

In November, the United Methodist Council of Bishops called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and no more deployments of troops to the country.

The bishops said their position was based on the denomination's view that "war is incompatible with the teachings and examples of Christ", and Jesus Christ's call for "his followers to be peacemakers". President George W Bush is a member of the United Methodist Church.

There have been 3,954 US deaths in Iraq, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, and over 28,773 wounded, according to Global

Currently, the US is in the process of withdrawing 22,000 troops, which will be completed in July.

On Monday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Baghdad during his unannounced visit that a pause in the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq after the current reduction "makes sense", according to CNN.

US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is said to believe that a careful review is necessary before any decision is made about further troop withdrawals. Petraeus is scheduled to come to Washington in April to brief President Bush and Congress about the situation in Iraq.

The Iraq war has had a detrimental effect on the country's small population of Christians. It is estimated that Christians make up nearly half of all refugees leaving Iraq, although they make up less than three per cent of the country's population. There are only about 600,000 Iraqi Christians left in the country, down from 1.2 million before the 2003 US-led offensive.

Persistent instability and violence in Iraq has also led to increased attacks on Christians. Last month, 10 churches were bombed within two weeks. Christians are also the target of kidnappings, mostly for ransom money.

Overall, the majority of evangelical leaders support the war, but almost as many expressed serious reservations, according to the NAE survey.

"I am also very concerned that the ardent support by evangelicals for the war in Iraq, and unquestioning support of President Bush has made evangelicals appear as if we are 'pro-war'. The increasing battle cry among evangelicals to fight radical Islamists is also troubling to me," said one leader.

Other concerns of evangelical leaders include the damage to the image of America, the miscalculation of Islam, and the war being used a "major recruiting tool for Islamic extremists".

The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the 100-strong board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals in the US. They include the CEOs of 60 denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organisations including mission groups, universities, publishers and churches.