|Vatican||US AND BRITAIN URGE POPE TO CANCEL IRAQ TRIP|
The US and Britain are pressing the Pope to abandon plans to visit Iraq later this year, fearing that it would present Saddam Hussein with a propaganda coup.
They are concerned that the pontiff would undermine the sanctions against Baghdad which Washington and London insist must remain despite growing international opposition.
The Pope has called repeatedly for an end both to the sanctions and to the military suppression of Iraq where Britain and America patrol no-fly zones over the country.
Iraqi forces frequently target or fire on patrols, which in turn fire back, sometimes killing Iraqi civilians and hardening international opinion against the operation. France and Russia want the containment of Iraq to end so they can trade with Baghdad.
The Vatican has made no official announcement, but the Pope has firm plans to visit Iraq, probably in December, and to travel to the city of Ur, the reputed birthplace of Abraham. Ur can be reached only via Baghdad where, inevitably, the Pope will be greeted by senior Iraqi officials, probably Saddam himself.
A State Department spokesman, said that Washington sympathised with the Pope's desire to go to Iraq as part of his millennial pilgrimage but John Paul should also take into account Baghdad's "wide use of torture and summary executions".
The Pope refuses to let American geopolitical concerns override what he sees as his pastoral duty. Washington was uneasy about his visit to Cuba last year, but has since followed the Vatican's lead in loosening relations with Havana and offering a slight diplomatic thaw in exchange for human rights improvements.
Telegraph 11:40am 20/9/99