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Cablegate: Pope Appeals to Iraqi Government to Protect Christians

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PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHROV #0032 0571539
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 261539Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY VATICAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1264
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 1304

UNCLAS VATICAN 000032

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREF PREL KIRF IZ VT
SUBJECT: POPE APPEALS TO IRAQI GOVERNMENT TO PROTECT CHRISTIANS

1. (U) In a letter made public on February 25 in the
semi-official Vatican daily, L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict
XVI asked Iraqi PM al-Maliki to do "everything possible" to
increase security around Christian places of worship during the
Eastern-rite Christian Christmas season. The original letter,
signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone,
was dated January 2. Editorial comment added that the Pope -
currently attending the annual spiritual retreat for the Roman
Curia - was upset by reports this week of attacks against
Christians in the Mosul region, hence the publication of the
letter at this time.

2. (U) Apart from the appeal to the Iraqi government to
protect Christians, Pope Benedict also expressed his sympathy
over the deaths and injuries incurred by the bombing of
government sites and mosques in Baghdad in late December and
January. The letter was prefaced by references to al-Maliki's
visit to the Vatican back in 2008 and by the Holy See's
insistence at the time that cooperation among ethnic and
religious groups was the only way for Iraq's "moral and civil"
reconstruction to go forward. The letter also recalled the
Pope's call for respect for freedom of worship.

3. (U) In what is turning into a full-court-press by the Holy
See, the nunciature in Baghdad followed the Pope by issuing a
public statement on February 24 decrying the targeting of
Christians in Iraq, based solely on their religious beliefs or
ethnicity. The statement said Christians have paid a "high
price" and that their "indisputable right to full citizenship"
is being trampled. The nunciature called for the international
community to maintain pressure "so that the violence and
discrimination ends immediately." The archbishops of Mosul and
Kirkuk made further public statements decrying the violence
forcing Christians out of the region. More on the letter and the
nuncio's statement is available on Embassy Vatican's Community
Blog: http://vatican.state.gov/nea/iraq/.

4. (SBU) Comment: It is relatively rare for the Pope to make a
direct request to a foreign government, and even rarer for it to
be given such prominence. The Vatican's decision to publish the
letter some 6 weeks after the fact, plus the statement from the
nunciature, show the Holy See's increasing alarm over the
ongoing security problems in Iraq in general, and for Christians
in particular. End comment.

DIAZ

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