The following is an excerpted opinion column by Bishop Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, published in Catholic Peace Voice, a publication of PAX Christi USA, the Catholic peace organization.

In November 2006, the president of the United State Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), Bishop William S. Skylstad, issued the statement, “A Call for Dialogue and Action on Responsible Transition in Iraq.” In it, the Catholic bishops of the United States expressed our prayers and concerns for our military personnel in Iraq, as well as the suffering people of Iraq, “who are also our sisters and brothers and deserve our care and solidarity.”

This important statement also noted: “The Holy See and our Bishops’ Conference have repeatedly expressed grave moral concerns about military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of invasion and occupation.”

We have witnessed many of those negative consequences come to fruition: deadly sectarian violence engulfing the Shia and Sunni communities; the justification by our leaders of the concept of preventive war; the practice of torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees; and the evermore precarious safety of the men and women who serve int eh U.S. military.

In addition, the bishops urged that “the Administration and the new Congress need to engage in a collaborative dialogue that honestly assesses the situation in Iraq, acknowledges past difficulties and miscalculations, recognizes and builds on positive advancdes, and reaches agreement on concrete steps to address ther seirous challenges that lie ahead.”

The statement also offered this: “Our nations’ military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence contributes to a responsible transition.”

This last point is my starting point. I would offer that our presence in Iraq has long passed the capacity to contribute to anything positive.

Even with the president’s desire for a new “surge” of troops in Iraq, our soldiers are unable to stop the deepening spiral of violence. It is time to bring our occupation of Iraq to an end.

This is not to say that we are to ignore our responsibility for the destruction and chaos that has been unleashed. But a U.S. presence, front and center, is breeding hatred that will punctuate our world for generations. Even a CIA study concluded months ago that, in effect, this war and occupation is creating terrorism, not stopping it.

Multilateral organizations like the United Nations, and regional bodies including the Arab League, are the ones which offer far greater possibility of advancing a reconciliation process and helping Iraqis shape a peaceful post-occupation transition. The U.S. has an economic responsibility to support reconstruction but with a preferential option for funding Iraqi-owned businesses that employ Iraqi citizens in the effort. And yhes, we might leave medical and engineering units–placed under international command. But it is time to step aside to create space for other actions. More U.S. military and political leaders on both sides of the aisle are saying there will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. This past fall in The Washington Post, Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Vietnam veteran, wrote a striking op-ed in which he sad, “We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam.”

It is increasingly cealr that we need, as the U.S. Bishops’ statement elevates, a search for genuine justice and peace in Iraq grounded in “moral urgency, substantive dialogue, and new directions.” Calls to “stay the course” must be replaced with suggestions for “another way:” another way for communities where the scourge of war has brought sadness and separation, death and destruction, in its wake; another way for families across our country who are yearning for the return of their loved ones who labor in the midst of war in Iraq; another way which brings to an end the violence which as claimed the lives of 3,000 U.S. troops and as many as 650,000 Iraqis, including women, children, and ordinary families just like ours.

As people of hope, let us remember the promise of peace. Let our nation seek another way in Iraq and, hopefully soon, disengage itself from the tragedy of this war and occupation.