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IRAQ-NICHOLSON May-14-2004 (490 words) xxxi
U.S. ambassador takes issue with Vatican official's comments on Iraq

By John Thavis

Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson took issue with a Vatican official's comment that the scandal over Iraqi prisoner abuse was a "more serious blow to the United States than Sept. 11."

The comment by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's leading foreign affairs expert, made headlines and provoked some criticism in the United States.

Speaking to Catholic News Service May 14, Nicholson said Archbishop Lajolo was "entitled to say what he wants," but suggested the archbishop should be careful "when speculating about the reactions of the American people."

Most Americans believe the soldiers who abused Iraqi prisoners were a tiny minority who did not represent the U.S. military or the American people, Nicholson said.

"They're ashamed of them and want them brought to justice as quickly as possible. I don't get the relationship that (Archbishop Lajolo) makes between that and 9-11, where over 3,000 Americans were brutally murdered," Nicholson said.

"President Bush has said it, and many other leaders in our government have said it, that this was a reprehensible and ignoble and criminal set of actions by just a handful of Americans," the ambassador said.

Nicholson said Archbishop Lajolo's more general remarks about the Iraq War included many points that the U.S. government would agree with: the need for a bigger U.N. role in peacekeeping in Iraq, a speedy transition to an independent and democratic government, and withdrawal of U.S. forces once security is established.

As for Archbishop Lajolo's comment that the war had helped foment hatred among Arabs against the West, Nicholson said the real test is how the Iraqi people feel. He said most surveys indicate the majority of Iraqis have a positive view about their future in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

Nicholson said he has received recent briefings about "tremendous progress" made in Iraq and passed this information on to Vatican officials, who find the information "interesting and often a revelation."

"There's more water, sewer and electrical service now than there was ever under Saddam Hussein. The railroads are running. Airplanes are landing at Baghdad airport. The schools are open, the hospitals are open, the clinics are open, the museums are open, the libraries are open. People are going to work," Nicholson said.

All this is unfortunately overshadowed by reports of violence and conflict in some parts of Iraq, he said.

The ambassador said it was important to remember that there are "many voices" at the Vatican, and not all of them are critical of the U.S. handling of the Iraqi situation.

Recently, for example, Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos "came up and exhorted me, and my government through me, not to pull out of Iraq. He said, 'You're needed in Iraq,'" Nicholson said.

The ambassador said that since the fall of the Iraqi regime last year the U.S. government and the Holy See have continued to work well together on humanitarian relief in Iraq.


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