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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 11:22 GMT
Pope enters Iraq fray
Pope John Paul II receives German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer at the Vatican
The Pope is said to be worried over a possible war on Iraq
A senior Vatican envoy is being sent to Baghdad on a humanitarian mission as part of diplomatic moves being made by the Holy See to stave off war against Iraq.

Retired French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray is expected to tell the Iraqis they should co-operate fully with UN weapons inspectors.

He will be travelling by air on Monday to Jordan, from where he will fly on to Baghdad on Tuesday, carrying a personal letter from Pope John Paul II to President Saddam Hussein.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray
Cardinal Etchegaray has travelled to Iraq several times
The Vatican has already had assurances from Iraq that the cardinal will be received by the president himself.

The Pope's aides say he remains profoundly concerned over the possibility of war against Iraq and especially for the possible effects of the war upon the Iraqi people, 3% of whom are Catholics.

A Vatican statement said Cardinal Etchegaray's mission was to show the Pope's concern over the situation and ask "Iraqi authorities to reflect seriously on the need for an effective international co-operation based on justice and international law aimed at guaranteeing the people [of Iraq] the supreme good of peace".

Cardinal Etchegaray still plays a prominent behind-the-scenes role inside the Vatican and has travelled numerous times to the Middle East on Vatican business, says the BBC's Rome correspondent, David Willey.

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It will be his third diplomatic mission to Baghdad.

He first went to the Iraqi capital in 1985 when he helped to arrange an exchange of prisoners of war between Iran and Iraq while they were at war.

Then in 1998, he visited Baghdad to determine if a papal visit was feasible.

That never happened.

Diplomatic moves

The pope has has previously said war against Iraq would be a "defeat for humanity." In the past weeks, the Vatican has been involved in a flurry of diplomatic initiatives to try to avert a conflict.

The pope held talks with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Friday and they made a joint appeal for peace.

Later this week, the Pope is to meet Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz at the Vatican and next week he will be seeing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

On Sunday, he made a dramatic appeal for world prayer to avert war and called for renewed efforts to avoid a war.

"One must not resign oneself, almost as if the war were inevitable," he said.


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09 Feb 03 | Business
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