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Bishop of Baghdad’s perspective on Iraq

April 12, 2007

“What is life like when it’s spent under the bombing, and now has to drag itself
among car bombs, suicide bombers and above all kidnapping? Dozens of people are
abducted every day, and you in the West don’t know about it.” — Bishop Shlemon Warduni

Building upon our previous posts regarding the war in Iraq and the recent opposition shown by some Catholic circles to Pope Benedict’s Urbi et Orbi message, we have decided that if anyone knows how the situation in Iraq truly is, will be the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, Shlemon Warduni. The argument against Pope Benedict’s message is that he is not getting the whole picture of the advancements that the 4-year long invasion has brought to the country. It would be worth considering that Pope Benedict may be getting his information from the sources at ground zero–the pastors of souls in Iraq.

Note that one of the last questions to the bishop is about what would be his request to the Holy See in these matters. His request? “We are only asking for something it has already done for us, that is the moral consolation of reiterating ‘No to war’, of speaking of justice for our people and of human rights, of hope and peace.” And that is exactly what he got from Pope Benedict this past Easter Sunday.

Below are excerpts from an interview with the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, Shlemon Warduni from 2006. For the complete text click here. For a more recent statement by bishop Warduni, click here.

Your Excellency, can you tell us what life is like in these difficult days in Iraq?

SHLEMON WARDUNI: First of all we’d like to speak only of what is being experienced in daily life, and not go into the political debate, that’s not our concern… even if at times politics can’t be avoided. How do we live? In a tragic situation. And unfortunately it’s going from bad to worse. Each day that dawns there’s hope things will get better, and then one is forced to admit that it went like the day before, or worse. But our hope is always steadfast, it is and will remain in the Lord. And in the goodwill of men, that they may really strive for the good of all, and not for the profit of the few. What is life like when it’s spent under the bombing, and now has to drag itself among car bombs, suicide bombers and above all kidnapping? Dozens of people are abducted every day, and you in the West don’t know about it. If it’s a journalist, a volunteer worker or a politician, it makes news, otherwise, the kidnapping of an Iraqi shopkeeper, a civil servant or of the father of a family, nobody’s concerned abroad. Tens of thousands of dollars are demanded from the family. The criminals want five “notebooks” – in slang a notebook is ten thousand dollars – or ten notebooks… and not only that. At times there’s a payout even to recover the corpse at least.

These criminals find out who can pay, and then they strike. They strike normal people, for money or revenge, for politics or even for terrorist purposes.

Is it a criminal activity that was already flourishing at the time of Saddam Hussein…?

WARDUNI: No, in no way. The comparison won’t hold up, it’s not even worth suggesting. Under Saddam there was dictatorship, the wars… but the people lived fairly well. Today there is the total insecurity, one can’t be sure in the morning of coming home in the evening, it seems absurd but that’s how it is. I can testify to it in person, if you’ll believe it.

That is?

WARDUNI: Last 6 March I was in my car, in the traffic. I move out left to overtake and I hear machine-gun fire. A hail of bullets hits the car and instinctively I flatten onto the seat. People who saw the scene have told me that the firing came from those armored “humvees”, with smoked windows, with which only the allied forces are equipped, without the distinctive markings of the Iraqi army. And they weren’t escorting anybody at that moment. After a few yards, I pulled in and stopped the car. The people in the car behind stopped to see if I was still alive, asked me how I was, and they were all Iraqi Moslems. The people in the humvee, after shooting at me, drove off unconcerned. But if they’re afraid of the people, why do they move among us Iraqis in Baghdad? As it is they’re a danger to us and to themselves. Why don’t they carry markings, or at least make their presence known, these “omnipotents”?

Is the insecurity you mention increased by religious factors?

WARDUNI: Not at all, it hurts everyone indiscriminately. Political motives, revenge, terrorism or religion merely add a tone to a picture already dark and oppressive. When there’s no security, there’s no government, there’s no rule that holds, and the most disparate groups all allege “valid” reasons for their behavior. And the population, the innocent, who can do nothing, remain in the trap. One thing yes, prayer.

Have the democratic elections changed the general expectations of the people in a positive way?

WARDUNI: We hoped that some good would come out of it, and we still hope in a stable government, strong, shared, to get our Iraq moving. But up to today, nothing. For the future, let’s hope.

What help are you asking of the Holy See?

WARDUNI: We are only asking for something it has already done for us, that is the moral consolation of reiterating “No to war”, of speaking of justice for our people and of human rights, of hope and peace. We appreciate it a great deal. And the Moslems, after seeing so very many Christians pray for peace, have understood that the war didn’t come from them. And for this help we are grateful to the Holy See, which is doing everything possible here, as already throughout the world, to bring peace. The children, the young Iraqis have the same right to live as anybody else. Now they don’t have hope. And that is why Patriarch Delly launched the appeal for prayer and fasting that Pope Benedict took up «in the name of God, Allah» … so that He may restore peace to the Iraqis.

Are foreign multinationals arriving? Is the economy gradually recovering?

WARDUNI: But the people who work with the Allies get kidnapped… even if they are Iraqi citizens. And again it’s fathers of families involved. If foreigners come to work in Iraq, they do it secretly. Economic betterment today belongs to those who work in government offices, and who receive a State salary, like the pensioners. How can the rest get by in an “economy of fear”? What economic system can manage to flourish amid general fear, in chaos? That is generally why we Iraqis want a strong government. And prices? Has any one ever heard before of a petrol shortage in an oil-producing country? A gas cylinder cost 0.75 euro, today it goes from 15 to 20 euro. A liter of petrol 15 cents, now it goes from 1.5 euro to more than 4.5 euro. Those houses that may have an electric generator don’t have the fuel to work it, if not at sky-high prices. Would you be able to live comfortably without electricity at fifty degrees in the shade?

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