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Pope condemns any war on Iraq

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul has condemned a possible war in Iraq, saying it could still be avoided and that it would be a defeat for humanity.

He made clear his opposition in his yearly "State of the World" address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican on Monday, saying diplomacy is the way forward.

"No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity," the 82-year-old pontiff said.

"And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike Iraq, the land of the Prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo?," he said.

"War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations."

He said international law and diplomacy were the only worthy means to resolve differences.

John Paul in his Christmas message three weeks ago urged world leaders not to go to war over Iraq, a theme he repeated on New Year's Day.

The pope's latest comments were released as a political row flared in Britain among Labour Party colleagues of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair was giving a TV address setting out a "strong line and clear strategy" on his country's policy on Iraq in the face of mounting pressure. (Full story)

Blair has been the staunchest ally of U.S. President George W. Bush, saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses a threat with his alleged development of weapons of mass destruction.

But Blair has faced domestic opposition to a military showdown, including from within his own cabinet. International Development Secretary Clare Short repeated the message on Sunday, saying the UK should try and use its influence and restrain the U.S..

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