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Iraqi Catholic Leader Decries Allied Bombing June 01, 1999

A Catholic prelate has charged that American and British air strikes are killing Iraqi civilians every day.

In an interview with the FIDES news service, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon has lamented that-- because of the warfare in the Balkans-- the focus of world public opinion has shifted away from the suffering people of Iraq. The Patriarch also said that his Church-- and the political leaders of Iraq-- are anxiously looking forward to the prospect of a visit by Pope John Paul II to their country.

Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid is the spiritual leader of about 600,000 Catholics of the Chaldean rite, most of them living in Iraq. There are also about 200,000 Latin-rite Catholics in Iraq, along with 200,000 non-Catholic Christians.

The complete text of the interview with Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid follows, through the courtesy of FIDES: Q: What is the situation in Iraq?

A: The people, despite everything, are resisting. The tragedy is that the US and Great Britain bomb every day, hitting not only military targets. In Kosovo they call them "mistakes," but here they are normal daily routine. But I think that when someone is killed it is always a mistake, these are crimes against a civilian population, and they kill about twenty people every day.

Q: You mentioned the war in Kosovo. Have the two conflicts anything in common?

A: If we compare our situation with that in Kosovo we find many similarities, and in fact the Iraqi people, although mostly Muslims, feel they are in the same trench as the people of the Yugoslav Republic. What has been happening there for two months now, has been happening here for nine years: and the same people are dropping the bombs. It seems to me that in both cases the US and Great Britain show they know nothing about the people they are attacking. They undervalue the tenacity of the Iraqi people who has resisted for nine years, and the same appears to be true of the Yugoslav people. They think that with bombs they can weaken the power of the leaders, whereas, in fact, they only increase the suffering of the people. The people prefer to support their leaders rather than end up under the slavery of America.

Q: At what point are preparations for a papal visit to Iraq?

A: It is known that Pope John Paul II has often voiced a desire to make a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Abraham, the common father of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. For the Pope, Abraham is a figure who helps the unity of believers to overcome political divisions. On May 14th I was received by the Pope, together with a delegation composed of the Shi'ite imam of Khadum mosque and the Sunni president of the council of administration of the Iraqi Islamic Bank. There was also a representative of the Iraqi ministry of religion. I renewed our invitation to the Pope, because his visit would be for us a grace from heaven. It would confirm the faith of Christians and prove the Pope's love for the whole of humanity in a country which is mainly Muslim.

At the end of the audience the Pope bowed to the Muslim holy book, the Qu'ran, presented to him by the delegation, and he kissed it as a sign of respect. The photo of that gesture has been shown repeatedly on Iraqi television and it demonstrates that the Pope is not only aware of the suffering of the Iraqi people, he has also great respect for Islam.

A papal visit would be welcomed by both the people and by the authorities. After the audience I immediately sent a recommendation to the Iraqi government to make the official step of inviting the Pope to Iraq.

Q: Will the bombing raids on Iraq ever end?

A: I hope they will, but in the mean time, with the delegation received by the Pope, I will go to America in July. We accepted an invitation from Billy Graham. We will visit the lion's den and try to explain the situation of our people. We will meet a number of NGOs and religious and civil authorities. We are going not to ask for help, but to explain how the people suffer because of the bombing. If they stop the bombing we will not need any help. Iraq has everything it needs, except peace.