Catholic World News
[MAR. 02, 2001]




BAGHDAD, Mar. 2, 01 (FIDES/ -- In a provocative interview
with the FIDES news service, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Catholic population
warned that the United States and Great Britain are risking a new outbreak
of violence in the Middle East by continuing harsh sanctions on Iraq.

Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, spoke
to Fides shortly after bombing raids on February 16 and 22. These most
recent raids caused 2 deaths and injured 20 people. In the past 3 years, 323
people have been reportedly killed, and thousands injured, in air strikes by
American and British planes enforcing a "no-fly zone" in Iraqi air space-- a
policy set by those two countries without any UN mandate.

Religious leaders in Iraq have frequently complained that international
sanctions on their country-- set in place to punish the regime of Saddam
Hussein-- have in effect punished ordinary citizens, causing widespread
poverty and hunger. The Vatican, too, has repeatedly criticized the sanctions.

The vast majority of Iraq's 20 million people are Muslim, but there are
approximately 1 million Christians. Of these, roughly 80 percent are
members of the Eastern-rite Chaldean Catholic Church.

The following is the text of the FIDES interview with the Chaldean Patriarch:

FIDES: Your Beatitude, what is your reaction to the recent bombings in
northern Iraq?

PATRIARCH RAPHAEL I BIDAWID: I have no words with which to condemn
this use of force against the weak.

During the Second World War the allies accused the Nazis of using the right
of force. Now the US and Britain are using force against the people of Iraq.
They proclaim principles of humanity and human rights, but where do they
apply them? They must realize that we Iraqis too have the right to life and

The Vatican, France, Italy and Russia have condemned the use of force and
we-- the Church of Baghdad-- do the same.

FIDES: The American Secretary of State is visiting Israel; Bush and Blair will
meet at Camp David. What is your forecast for the Middle East?

PATRIARCH: I am afraid that if the USA and Britain continue this way, the
whole of the Middle East will be set on fire. This escalation of violence on the
part of USA and Britain can push Iraq to retaliate out of desperation.

The whole of the Arab world is now against the Americans and the British,
and ready to commit violence against the USA and Britain in their own

It is time to start sincere dialogue to reach a solution. Blood and violence
lead only to more blood and violence. Our people are ever more distressed
and are ever more against the Americans and the British. The more Saddam
is maltreated, the more he is applauded.

I appeal to the wisdom and prudence of the governors of these countries:
think of the common good which peace can give to all, us and you. If we do
not resume dialogue the ghost of a war is not improbable and we risk new

FIDES: What have the sanctions obtained?

PATRIARCH: Nothing-- and even the Americans admit this. The Iraqi
government distributes rice, sugar, oil, tea: the harsher the embargo, the
more generous the government in donations and rations. Certainly
widespread poverty remains: a chicken costs about half a month's pay;
people rely on help from relations abroad, but the situation is better than
some years back. The government also distributes basic medicines. The
sanctions are useless. You Westerners do not realize that an Arab can do
without everything except his dignity. If you touch his dignity he will be as
ferocious as a lion.

FIDES: Regarding the sanctions, have you sought help from the Catholic
bishops of America?

PATRIARCH: In a couple of months' time a delegation of the American
bishops' conference will visit Baghdad. Last July, I and a few Muslim leaders,
Sunni and Shi'ite, visited the bishops in America and we had a meeting with
the World Council of Churches. This was encouraging; the other churches also
want the embargo lifted and they have promised to pressure their


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