Iraqi bishop says U.S. betrayed country, Christians suffer most

by John L. Allen Jr.

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Ambassador James Nicholson, who represented the Bush administration to the Vatican when the war in Iraq began seven years ago, has often told the story of hosting a delegation of Iraqi bishops in Rome shortly after the 2003 invasion. When Nicholson greeted the bishops at the steps of the ambassador’s residence, as he tells the story, they said to him, “Thank you for liberating our country.”

That may have been their sentiment seven years ago, but the bishops seem to be singing a different tune today as the U.S. withdraws its final contingents of combat troops.

The United States has “betrayed its duty to bring peace and security” to Iraq, according to Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, in an interview on Friday with the Italian daily La Stampa. The Americans leave behind “an Iraq worse off than the one they found seven years ago,” said Warduni, who’s widely regarded as the most charismatic voice among the Iraqi bishops.

The following is an NCR translation of Warduni’s interview with Giacomo Galeazzi of La Stampa.

Do you consider the war in Iraq a failure?

After toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein, the United States never achieved what they promised to the world. Now there’s only rubble. We’ve become targets, we’re afraid to even leave the house. The situation is worse for everyone, but especially for us Christians. The withdrawal of the United States is a disastrous flight from responsibility, which will multiply the atrocities and increase the instability even more.

What was your first thought on Obama’s announcement that the soldiers will be withdrawn?

That the great saint Karol Wojtyla was right to condemn the war in Iraq. It created far more problems than it resolved. Given how it’s ended up, it would have been better not to intervene. The recourse to force has simply meant destruction, without producing any benefit for the country. Economic profit was put at the center of everything, the protection of foreign interests, and not the defense of values, of conscience, and of the common good. Thus in the streets of our cities there’s no trace of democracy, only fear and violence. We’re paying an extremely high price in blood and terror.

What hasn’t worked in these years?

The United States thought exclusively about their own financial interests, and no one worried about the welfare of Iraq and the Iraqis. We’re suffering from the absence of a stable government. Without real authority and an effective sovereign, chaos rules. With car bombs, kamikazes, kidnappings and clan-related violence, we’ve become the cradle of every kind of terrorism. Bands of assassins move around as they want, inside and outside the borders. There’s never been even the most minimal concrete commitment to teaching true democracy, to help it grow and mature in the souls of our people. The democratic spirit can’t be imposed, nor exported through war. Today, the reasons for the Vatican’s ‘No’ to the armed intervention in Iraq are tragically clear to everyone. Before there was a dictatorship, but the people lived fairly well. Today there’s total insecurity. No one is certain of being able to return home safely at night. Every night, there’s some new insignia for terrorists.

Is the fate of Iraq now returning to your hands?

Only on paper. The majority of Iraqis want a government in which all parties collaborate for peace and reconstruction. Up to now, however, there’s been neither collaboration nor reconciliation. What have prevailed instead are personal interests and factions. Religious and ethnic fanaticism has grown. Stability is possible only on the shared basis that everyone together seeks the good of all Iraqis. The foreign troops are fleeing without having built a shared home on a solid basis. We appeal to the United Nations and to whoever is of good will: Do not abandon us, or it will end in disaster, increasing the insecurity of the whole world. Without help, we’ll all be overwhelmed by the collapse of a devastated system without foundation.

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