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Baghdad bishops plead for end of 'atrocious' bombing

The Catholic and Orthodox bishops of Baghdad have appealed for a ceasefire as the United States-led invasion of Iraq entered its second week.

A Chaldean Catholic auxiliary bishop told Vatican Radio that the bishops made their plea after meeting in the Iraqi capital, where he said the situation was worsening every day because of coalition bombing.

"United with our Muslim brothers, we ask everyone to issue an urgent appeal for a ceasefire," Bishop Shlemon Warduni said. "The bombing does not stop; it is increasingly atrocious and terrifying", he said.

The bishop said there were growing numbers of civilian casualties. Neither human rights nor civil rights were being respected.

"The war itself is a violation of human rights", he added. "With what right do they do this? The UN Security Council must make decisions, not single states. I say to you that our children cry out to heaven; our women, youth and old people ask God for peace: Peace, not war! Stop the war!"

American officials have ruled out any talk of a ceasefire. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in an interview with Arab television stations, said a ceasefire would only encourage President Saddam Hussein to believe he could avoid being toppled. The Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, repeated the message to a Senate hearing on 27 March when asked about reports that France or another country might ask the United Nations to call a halt to the conflict. "I have no idea what some country might propose, but there isn't going to be a ceasefire", Rumsfeld said.

Baghdad's Latin-rite Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman told the Rome-based Misna missionary agency that the missile strike on a Baghdad market earlier in the week had caused widespread dismay, since they had been told that that American bombing techniques were "practically perfect". The archbishop said the bombing, which killed at least 14 civilians, may have been a mistake, but was still a tragedy.

Local media reported that the Chaldean cathedral has been evacuated because its windows were blown out by a bomb explosion nearby.

According to the Papal Nuncio in Baghdad, the Holy See's decision not to withdraw its representatives from Baghdad has been warmly welcomed and approved by the civilian population in the city. Archbishop Fernando Filoni was commenting in an Austrian state television interview on 30 March, Christa Pongratz-Lippitt reports from Vienna.

Archbishop Filoni said he was one of the few foreign diplomats still in the city. Despite the bombardment, which had not spared the district in which the nunciature is situated, he and his staff were remaining calm.

The Tablet

Pope Prays for Civilians in Iraq (Reuters)
Antiwar feeling remains strong across globe (National Catholic Reporter)
Some Doubt Intentions of Christians in Iraq (AP)
Nuncio in Baghdad Appeals to All Christians to Pray for Peace (Zenit)
Iraq: Ruini, ever more sure of our rejection of war (AGI)
Military chaplains see conflict differently (National Catholic Reporter)
Cardinal denounces US motives (The Tablet)

7 Apr 2003