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Iraq deputy PM heading to Rome for audience with Pope

Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz will visit Rome for a private audience with Pope John Paul II later this month, as the Vatican continues its all-out diplomatic effort to stave off war in the Middle East.

Aziz told the French newspaper Le Figaro that he would meet with the Holy Father on 14.

"I asked for an audience myself, and I immediately received a positive response," said Aziz.

The Holy See confirmed the appointment shortly after the Iraqi politician announced it.

Aziz has survived as an adviser for more than 20 years. He was born to a Christian family in 1936. Commentators attribute his survival to his lack of a power base in Iraq, which means he presents no threat to President Saddam Hussein.

Since early January, rumors have been circulating in Rome about the possibility of a special Vatican peace mission to Baghdad and Washington. The visit by Tariq Aziz would serve to establish direct contact between top Vatican and Iraqi officials.

The Holy See is already in touch with US government leaders. Pope John Paul exchanged private notes with President George W. Bush in December.

Catholic World News

Pope gives audience to Iraqi minister (Ananova)
Iraq ready to co-operate: Aziz (Toronto Star)
New Zealand cardinal says attack on Iraq lacks moral justification (Catholic News Service)
U.S. religious criticize embassy's use of theologian to defend war (Catholic News Service)
[Japanese] Bishop Matsuura Urges U.S. President Not To Invade Iraq (UCA News)
[Indonesian] Bishops' Conference Leaders Issue Letters Opposing Looming Iraq War (UCA News)
War in Iraq Would Spark a Tragedy, Says Indian Episcopate (Zenit)
Canberra bishop confronts PM on Iraq war (5/2/03)

6 Feb 2003