Baghdad Archbishop Says Coalition Forces Must Stay

Otherwise, Iraq Faces Chaos, He Warns

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, DEC. 9, 2003 ( An eventual withdrawal from Iraq of Americans or allies «would be a great lack of responsibility,» as «it would mean going from anarchy to chaos,» warns Latin-rite Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman of Baghdad.

«To abandon Iraq to itself would imply to prepare a tragic future for us all,» the archbishop said to Missionary Service News Agency on Friday. «It would be a terrible legacy for the West which would be added to the Middle East focus, making everything extremely difficult.»

Postwar Iraq is unstable, he observed. In «the days following the fall of Baghdad, the Iraqi army was dismantled, removing from the country a structure of security without replacing by something able to carry out the same task.»

«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,» Archbishop Sleiman said. «Who is to say if some are not participating in the guerrilla movement?»

According to the archbishop of Baghdad, «To the currents of militant fundamentalists, both among the Sunnis as well as she Shiites, have probably been added very professional forces from abroad, as the growing complexity and organization of the attacks demonstrates.»

«Perhaps the al-Qaida 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 noted.

Archbishop Sleiman also lamented the increase in kidnappings to demand ransoms. «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.

However, a new element is disturbing the already precarious coexistence between foreigners and Iraqis: «Over the past months American religious organizations have arrived in Iraq — which I 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, the archbishop said.

Given the existing situation, the archbishop made an appeal: «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.»

The United Nations «on its own would be ineffective; the peace contingents must stay,» he concluded.

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