Page 5, 19th December 2003

19th December 2003
Page 5
Page 5, 19th December 2003 — Iraqi archbishop asks Coalition forces to stay

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Locations: Baghdad


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Iraqi archbishop asks Coalition forces to stay

BY TRACY-JO SMITH THE LATIN-rite Archbishop of Baghdad has warned that an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq "would mean going from anarchy to chaos".

Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman made his plea for Coalition forces to stay in his country just days before the sensational capture of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein by American troops in a "spider hole" at a farm in Ad-Dawr, near Tilcrit.

The archbishop said: "To abandon Iraq to itself would imply to prepare a tragic future for us all. It would be a terrible legacy for the West which would be added to the Middle East focus, making everything extremely difficult."

He said that the dismantling of the Iraqi army, in the days following the fall of Baghdad, had removed an essential strucnue of security.

"So, 400,000 armed men, who could control in some way, after purifying the top leaders and prosecuting the guilty, are at present scattered in society without a source of income," he added.

Archbishop Sleiman suggested that "perhaps the alQaida network has found the way of arriving in the country, and perhaps nations exist that will profit from drowning the Americans in the burning sand of Iraq".

He lamented the increase in kidnappings. "We suspect that the kidnappers are former secret service agents who for years have watched people and know well which families to pressure and for how much," he said.

Anew element is disturbing the already precarious coexistence between foreigners and Iraqis.

Archbishop Sleirnan said: "Over the past months American religious organisations have arrived in Iraq — which 1 would not like to classify as 'sects' — who announce openly among the population that they are in Iraq to convert the Muslims.

"These groups constitute a genuine provocations for Muslims and we are not surprised if some Muslims react aggressively.

"If the United Nations handles Iraq's problems with the consensus of the international community, including the Arab countries, then there will be a force recognized by all and it will not be impossible to obtain the solidarity of the majority of the Iraqi population."

After the capture of Saddam,• US President George W Bush delivered a live. broadcast in which he told the Iraqi people that they would never have to fear the rule of their former leader again.

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