VATICAN, Mar 18, 03 ( -- US President George W. Bush has assumed a heavy moral burden by saying his intention to go to war against Iraq, the Vatican has warned.

In response to the American leader's announcement that the US will soon launch a military assault, the Holy See issued a terse one-sentence statement: "Whoever decides that all peaceful means that international law has put at our disposition have been exhausted assumes a serious responsibility before God, his conscience and history."



BAGHDAD, Mar 18, 03 ( -- The Pope's representative in Iraq will remain in Baghdad despite the imminent threat of an American bombing campaign.

Archbishop Fernando Filoni, the apostolic nuncio in Iraq, has indicated that he will remain at his post, although virtually all other diplomats and UN officials have left the city.

Most embassies in Baghdad have been closed, with the diplomats moving with their families to Jordan. Teams of journalists have also vacated the Iraqi capital, as have UN weapons inspectors and other international officials.

However, the apostolic nuncio remains at work, along with his French secretary, Father Jean Francois Lantheaume. "Of course we are staying," the nuncio told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. "How could we abandon the Christian community at such a difficult moment? For us, that question doesn't even come up."

Only a handful of other foreign diplomats remained in Baghdad on the morning of March 18, after an ultimatum issued by US President George W. Bush. Envoys from Cuba, Russia, Greece, Libya, and Syria were still in the city.

Archbishop Filoni acknowledged the dangers of remaining in a city that has been marked for a devastating bombing campaign. But he insisted that he was "more concerned for the Christian communities." The nuncio said that he would continue his work, and "the rest is in the hands of God."