Italian Baptist leaders for the second time in a month have appealed to Baptists in the United States to join their call for an end to the war in Iraq.

The executive board of the Italian Baptist Union on Monday issued a letter saying it is time to bring the war to a halt, citing civilian casualties in the attack on Fallujah.

“The death of hundreds of civilians, elderly people, women and children is a call to us to state clearly that it is time to put a stop to the war in Iraq, which has gone beyond all limits,” said the letter, signed by Union president Anna Maffei.

In November Maffei wrote an open letter urging U.S. Baptists to “develop strategies for peace” in Iraq, such as dialogue and prayer meetings on alternatives to war.

The new letter, however, calls for an immediate end to violence.

“It is now clear to everyone that the war in Iraq has not prevented anything whatsoever, but has triggered a spiral of death and destruction which must be stopped immediately,” the letter says.

“As Protestant Christians and Baptists, we join our voices to say to those who say it is time to stop this war and to those who are taking concrete steps to bring aid to the victims of this conflict.”

The letter cites reports of doctors and nurses being denied access to Fallujah while the battle raged, making it impossible for them to treat wounded, a violation of international agreements. Embedded journalists, the letter claims, were kept at a distance to prevent unbiased reports that would have countered official bulletins.

“Our executive [board] feels strongly the time has come for us in the Christian churches to make a heartfelt appeal to stop violence in Iraq as in every other place in the world,” Maffei wrote in a cover letter. “We cannot accept these conflicts with a sense of resignation. Please, raise your voice as well.”

“Jesus came to transform this world by word, love and forgiveness and asked for the sword to be put away,” Maffei continued. “Let’s believe in his Word; as Christians, let’s act in a different way.”

U.S.-led troops claim to have killed hundreds of resistance forces since launching the invasion of Fallujah Nov. 8.

U.S. officials say they expect few civilian casualties in Fallujah because of precision attacks on military targets. Arab news outlets, however, report scores of civilian deaths.

An estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of Fallujah’s 300,000 residents are said to have fled the city to avoid air raids.

Estimates of number of Iraqi civilians killed since the start of the war vary widely, from as low as 15,000 to as high as 98,000.

The Italian Baptist leaders’ plea is thought to be directed primarily to the Southern Baptist Convention, the world’s largest Baptist body, which this summer pulled out of the Baptist World  Alliance for a variety of reasons, including charges of “anti-American” sentiment.

One area where Southern Baptists differ with some other Baptists is the war in Iraq. The European Baptist Federation council in 2002 opposed unilateral action against Iraq prior to the invasion.

The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution in 2003 supporting the invasion and this past June passed another statement of support for the American military.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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