BAGHDAD (Fides) - Although they have no UN mandate to do so, Britain and the US continue to maintain no-fly zones over Iraq. On February 16 and 22, there were more bombings, officially aimed at military structures, but 2 people were killed and 20 injured. In three years, in similar incidents, 323 people have been killed and about a thousand injured. Patriarch Raphael Bidawid, head of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, spoke with Fides about the recent bombings, the sanctions which weigh on the Iraqi people and a possible spread of violence in the Middle East. Out of a population of 20 million, one million Iraqis are Christians: of these 80% are Chaldean Catholics. Here is the interview.
Your Beatitude, what is your reaction to the recent bombings in northern Iraq?
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 also have the right to life and dignity. The Vatican, France, Italy and Russia have condemned the use of force and we, the Church of Baghdad, do the same.
The American Secretary of State is visiting Israel; Bush and Blair will meet at Camp David. What is your forecast for the Middle East?
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 countries. It is time to start sincere dialogue to reach a solution. Blood and violence lead only to more blood and violence. Our people, ever more distressed, 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 chaos.
What have the sanctions obtained?
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 rationing. 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.
Regarding the sanctions have you sought help from the Catholic Bishops of America?
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 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 governments. (Fides 24/02/2001)