BY SIMON CALDWELL AN IRAQI CATHOLIC' bishop has
accused the British media of lying about the post-war state of his country.
Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Abouna of Baghdad said he believed the press and television were running a propaganda campaign to discredit the American-led Coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein and is now running Iraq.
A day after flying into London from the Iraqi capital, the bishop told The Catholic Herald that the situation in his country was in fact steadily improving, rather than descending into a morass resembling the Vietnam War.
"It's getting better," said Bishop Abouna. "The media are exaggerating a lot of things. They should be realistic about the situation in Iraq. Newspapers and television are saying a lot of things that aren't true. When they go there they can see everything tits changing]."
He said most Iraqis were appalled by the series of terrorist attacks on Coalition troops and aid workers that have claimed more than a hundred lives since US President George W Bush declared an end to hostilities on May 1.
Bishop Abouna said that the vast majority of Iraqi people desperately sought security and development and recognised that they needed American help to rebuild their country.
He said that a great many Iraqis had joined the new police force, which, he said, was both well-trained and well-equipped and he said Iraqi customs officials now ran Baghdad airport.
Others, he added, had been paid £2 a day by the Americans to clean up the streets of Baghdad Their salaries were three times the average wage under Saddam's regime.
Formerly chaplain to the Chaldcans of Great Britain, Bishop Abouna has travelled between London and Baghdad since he was ordained by Pope John Paul II at St Peter's Basilica, Rome, on January 6.
He will remain at the service of British Chaldcans until the Vatican announces a successor to Raphael I Bidawid, the Patriarch of Baghdad, who died in July. He will then take up his office in Iraq.
Bishop Abouna was among 19 Iraqi bishops who signed a letter to Paul Bremer, the American administrator of his country, asking for Christian representation in the Temporary Council of Government, the transitional body set up to prepare for Iraqi seff-rule.
The bishops described the exclusion of a Chaldean presence as an "injustice against our people ... for which we protest hereby explicitly and insistently". Bishop Abouna said that the letter was sent earlier this month on the invitation of Mr Bremer, a Catholic who attends Mass each week in Baghdad.
Although there is not yet a Christian presence in the national Iraqi bodies, local councils in Algosh, Karakosh and Telkef, organised by the Americans, have appointed Christians as mayors.
Fr Louis Sako, a member of the Mosul-based provincial council, agreed with Bishop Abouna that the Iraqi people were enjoying their first taste of freedom though they were still concerned about security.
He said that the new civil structures were essential in helping Iraqis become accustomed to life after the demise of Saddam's dictatorship. "Before the war, all of Iraq was like a huge barracks full of soldiers and weapons — no one could criticise or demonstrate," he said.
Fr Sako, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said he had been working to safeguard the rights of Christians and to recover property confiscated from a Catholic monastery by Saddam's regime.
Bishop Abouna said that relations between Christians and Muslims in Iraq were very good and that all the churches were open as usual.