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Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 20:40 GMT
'Pope must tackle religious bias'
Cardinal Etchegaray leads prayers in Baghdad
Cardinal Etchegaray has travelled to many trouble spots
President Saddam Hussein of Iraq has urged Pope John Paul II to address the "racial and religious discrimination" which has made his country a target of possible military action, state television reported.

The Iraqi leader told a special Vatican envoy that Iraqis were being singled out because they were Muslim and that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

why is this aggressiveness with false pretexts, although Iraq does not have any weapons of mass destruction at a time Israel has all kinds of weapons of mass destruction

Saddam Hussein

The envoy, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, met the Iraqi leader for 90 minutes in Baghdad delivering a message from the Pope.

The cardinal said Saddam Hussein had been relieved by Friday's report to the United Nations by the chief weapons inspectors.

"He [Saddam Hussein] is doing everything to avoid war," Cardinal Etchegaray told Italian television, according to French news agency AFP.

Respect UN

On Friday, the Pope told Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz that Baghdad must respect UN resolutions to disarm.

Mr Aziz, a Catholic, is among a few Christians holding positions of power in Baghdad.

On Saturday, he visited the Italian town of Assisi to pray for peace at the tomb of Saint Francis, one of Christianity's major shrines.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz at the basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
Tariq Aziz prayed for peace

He wrote in a book commemorating his visit to the tomb of the 13th Century saint: "May Almighty God grant peace to the people of Iraq, and to the whole world".

The papal envoy emerged from talks with Saddam Hussein saying the meeting centred on seeing "if everything had been done to guarantee peace by restoring a climate of trust which allows Iraq to recover its place in the international community".

"At the heart of our meeting were all the Iraqi people, from Baghdad to Mosul, and from whom I have been able to gauge their aspiration for a just and lasting peace after so many years of suffering," he said.

Double standards

The Iraqi leader accused the West of applying double standards.

"What is wanted from Iraq? Isn't it the right of the Iraqis and Arabs to say that the reason for this aggression is because Iraq is an Arab Muslim country?," state television quoted him as telling Cardinal Etchegaray.

At the heart of our meeting were all the Iraqi people, from Baghdad to Mosul, and from whom I have been able to gauge their aspiration for a just and lasting peace after so many years of suffering

Cardinal Etchegaray

"Then why is this aggressiveness with false pretexts, although Iraq does not have any weapons of mass destruction at a time Israel has all kinds of weapons of mass destruction, kill the Palestinians and destroy their property though they are an unarmed people," the president said.

"Isn't this a clear racial and religious discrimination? This is the question," he said. "I think if the Pope addresses this question, he will be influential in Christian communities. This is his historic responsibility and his responsibility in front of God."

During Friday's audience with Mr Aziz, the Pope insisted on "the necessity for Iraq to faithfully respect, and give concrete commitments to resolutions of the UN Security Council, which is the guarantor of international law," a statement from the Vatican said.


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15 Feb 03 | Middle East
14 Feb 03 | Middle East
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