Patriarch of Iraq Makes a Plea for Peace to the American People

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ROME, February 16, 1998, courtesy of Zenig News Agency

While preparations are being made for war against his country, the Chaldean Patriarch of Iraq, Raphael I Bidawid, on a visit to Rome, has made a plea for peace to the American people through the Vatican News Agency FIDES: "Pressure your government not to attack my people. It would be something unworthy of a great country such as the United States of America."

The Patriarch, spiritual guide of the majority of Iraq's Christians -- who still celebrate their liturgy in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus -- has been in Rome for the past few days. Of the 20 million Iraqi citizens, some one million are Christians. Of these, 80% are Catholics belonging to either the Chaldean or Latin Rites. During his stay, the Patriarch has had the chance to meet with Pope John Paul II and to personally thank him for his intervention to try and prevent the outbreak of war. The Pope confided to him that "the people of Iraq have been in my prayers every day."

Fides: How is the expectation of a possible conflict affecting the daily lives of the Iraqi people?

Raphael I: Life in Iraq goes on pretty much as normal. The people aren't aware of the international tensions, in part, because in a regime such as ours, the people are not the protagonists of politics, yet they suffer the consequences of their leaders' decisions and only receive the information given them. Because of the blockade, there is a lack of food and medicine. An estimated 4,500 children are dying every month as a result. Since 1990 more than one million children have died because of the lack of food and medicine. The people get poorer by the day; the currency has devaluated more than 5,000%; unemployment is rampant and the cost of living is astronomical. We can't go on like this!

Fides: But, don't you believe that the leader of the country is responsible for this situation?

Raphael I: The war is responsible for all this. Look, the 1990 conflict only helped to strengthen the government of Saddam. That is why I say that war is useless. Ever since the war broke out in 1990, the people give even greater support to the government. It may seem like a paradox, but that's the way it is. The war has only strengthened Saddam and punished the people, increasing the misery of their situation. Back then, I wrote to President Bush to ask him not to attack my people. I was accused of being an accomplice of Saddam since I tried to avoid the conflict. Now, I have written to Clinton. The Pope also asked Bush to try to avoid the intervention, and he received certain guarantees that the war would not take place. The President of the United States lied to the Pope. And now it seems that history is repeating itself.

Fides: American sources claim that Saddam has hidden his arms in Algeria, Sudan, and Libya.

Raphael I: That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. My country is under blockade, almost nothing can come in or go out. How could the government transfer arms? With a special tunnel built to smuggle arms that would reach to Algeria, Khartoum, or Tripoli? Do you really believe that Saddam has arms in his palaces? Even if he had, by now he would have already relocated them. Saddam's biggest worry right now, since he knows he cannot bear another conflict, is to avoid provoking a confrontation. The truth is that he wants the blockade removed and he's willing to risk everything in order to achieve it. And the people, unfortunately, are behind him all the way on this point. No people should be humiliated to this extreme. The people of Iraq believe it is better to die fighting than to continue suffering misery and humiliation.

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