Leaders of the Italian Baptist Union have sent an open letter to Baptists in the United States criticizing the war in Iraq.

The letter, approved by vote of Italian Baptists in October and delivered Friday to Baptist conventions in the U.S., describes the war as “mistaken,” “counterproductive” and “illegal.”

While both countries have their armies in Iraq, the Italian Baptists said they were directing the letter just to “American brothers and sisters” because they hoped the strength and number of U.S. Baptists “could make a difference in the world and contribute a great deal” to developing international peace strategies.

The letter is signed by Anna Maffei, who was elected president of the Italian Baptist Union at the Oct. 7-9 general assembly. Co-pastor of a church in Naples, she is not only Italian Baptists’ first woman president, but also the first woman to be elected head of any church denomination in Italy.

The letter cites cost, casualties and ruin of the war.

“Our governments claim that their intentions are good; in fact our Italian government states that it is not at war at all!” it reads. “The objective is to guarantee Iraqis the possibility of having democratic elections, but democracy cannot be imposed by war.”

Rather than reducing the threat of terrorism, the war has resulted in increased recruitment for Al Qaeda and the Iraqi resistance, the letter says.

“The war has caused terrorism to flare up in a land where there wasn’t any before and has restricted democracy in the countries involved in the war through security measures, clamping down on the right to protest and the tampering with the question of freedom of information.”

The letter also cites U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as declaring the war illegal, and says the justification for going to war was a “lie” about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda, according to U.N. weapons inspectors and a congressional commission.

“We all see our leaders, in the same vein as the exponents of Islamic fundamentalism and of terrorism, waving the flag, talking of a war between civilizations and claiming that God is on their side,” the letter says.

“We believe that God–who said ‘you shall not kill’ and who sent Jesus to die for our sin–is a God of peace, of reconciliation and of justice, that he is on the side of the victims of war, whoever they are: military or civilian, Iraqi, American, widows, parents, orphans, prisoners, whole peoples reduced to misery and famine.”

The Italian Baptists suggest two types of initiatives.

One is to involve people of diverse religions, cultures and nationalities in discussions about alternatives to war.

The other is ecumenical prayer meetings “in which we pray that God touches our leaders’ hearts and those of terrorist and resistance leaders and that he brings them to repent, to change direction, to stop the fighting and open up a dialogue with their enemies.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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