12/15/2003, 00.00
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"The serpent's head has been crushed: Our fears are finally over".

by Bernardo Cervellera
An interview with Msgr. Rabban al Qas, bishop of Amadiyah (Northern Iraq)

Rome (AsiaNews) - Bishop Rabban al Qas, age 54 and of Kurdish origin, is elated to say the least. In his hospital room he must wait to be operated on due to the effects of an "explosion" that has occurred in Iraq. Yet he cannot manage to sit still. He hops up on his one good leg (the other held by bandages) as he watches Arab and Italian TV news and makes and receives telephone calls from a country in celebration. "The serpent's head has been finally crushed," he said. "Now we can peacefully rebuild our country" with the help of a military presence he defines as "liberating" and not "occupational". 


Msgr. Rabban, what does Saddam Hussein's capture mean for Iraq?

I can say that his arrest is a moment of joy for all Iraqis. As well as for us bishops. Ours fears are finally over. All the weight we bore on our shoulders for all those who died and for (the fear of ) murderers … In the months following Iraq's liberation., there was the suspicion that there were still spies around, that Saddam would reappear … Now there is no longer any fear. Now the serpent's head has been finally crushed and his regime is finally over. During the months of allied occupation, people continued living with their past fear that Saddam was everywhere. Saddam has met his end, and for us in Iraq, (this means) the reconstruction period can now truly begin. If there is peace in Iraq's future, freedom for all religions, then our counrty will be able to grow. She will be rich and her numerous cultures will live together (in harmony). This explains why upon hearing the news of Saddam's arrest, all of Baghdad and the entire country burst into joy and is now celebrating in the streets.

What does his capture mean for the Church?

I spoke with seminarians and bishops in Baghdad. Yesterday, they were all at the airport awaiting the new Patriarch's arrival. And they were celebrating with other Iraqis. I would like to clarify one aspect of your question: Saddam's capture and arrest does not mean one thing for the Church and another for Iraq citizens. Christians are not any different from the rest of the nation. Christ sent us to live within society. Under Saddam Hussein, the Church and Iraqi populace have suffered together.  Under his dictatorial regime, we have all been persecuted: Christians, Shiites, Arabs, Kurds, and Syrian-Chaldeans alike. We are the Iraqi nation and it we Iraqis who have been oppressed.  Under Saddam Hussein, 85% of the population was suffocated. Everybody suffered a lot. Now people hope for a safer and more stable future.

Do you think the attacks and violence will ever cease?

You all only listen to what press agencies report and how they define the presence of allied troops as "occupational", as I heard in Italy (Msgr. Rabban attended the Chaldean Synod in Rome to elect Baghdad's new patriarch). And now I say it again: For us (their military presence) is "liberating", not occupational. If they weren't here, Iraqis would still be under (Saddam's) yoke. But now thank God the nightmare is over.

But what nightmare? Wasn't his regime annihilated last April 9?

April 9 was the day of our political liberation. But only as of today, there is freedom of spirit. Until now, we weren't calm. There was so much fear around. Many wondered "when Saddam's soldiers were coming?". People were afraid. With Saddam gone now, we can begin peacefully rebuilding our country. And, particularly, we must begin rebuilding schools.

There is great focus on the country's state of insecurity. What is your opinion?

In the West, one hears the words "occupation" and "Iraqi resistance" and that Americans are not well liked. Certainly, the Americans probably made some mistakes and have destroyed things; but they are still our "liberators". The lack of tranquillity is something we inherited from Saddam. Before he escaped, he freed all criminals, delinquents, thieves and evil persons from prisons. In the West, you marvel at the fact that in Iraq there are thefts, clashes and violence. But what happened in Italy after the (last) war? Weren't there incidents of violence and thievery? And what about in France? Wasn't there a black market, illegal expropriations (of land) and vendettas taken? Iraq needs time to rebuild herself, just like you did.

And what about the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks? Will they continue?

Now that Saddam is gone, Al-Quaeda will soon be over with.  Al-Qaeda was able to plan attacks in Iraq thanks to the Iraqis that guided them in loco. But now for whom will these Iraqis work? Who will pay them now that Saddam has been arrested? Al-Qaeda will come to an end, and so too will terrorism. Thank God Saddam has fallen, just like his statue did.

It was said Saddam Hussein was tolerant of the Church. Is this true?

In 2002, Saddam gave orders to have Christina names removed from I.D. cards. Even Christians were obliged to use only names found in the Koran. You call this tolerance?

Isn't there the risk that now an endless series of revenge will be triggered?

Maybe. Humans will be humans. But should there be strong government which can manage the whole situation well, the country will rebuild itself day by day. Iraqi people are not violent. On the contrary: they are good and patient. I'm proud to be an Iraqi.

Do you think Saddam Hussein will be condemned to death?

This is something for those in charge of law and justice to decide. As bishop, I say that it is just he has a trial before an Iraqi court of law. Even if he is evil, his dignity must be respected. But he needs to confess his crimes, to admit he killed and had killed millions of people. Even Christian forgiveness presupposes confession and atonement. 

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