Sunday, October 10, 2004

ROME — Senior Vatican officials have decided to put aside their differences with the U.S.-led coalition over the war in Iraq, calling for multinational troop reinforcements to secure the country’s fledgling democracy.

In February last year, Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, offered some of the fiercest denunciations of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the decision to invade Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein.

The private criticism was made embarrassingly public by Vatican officials, who revealed at a press conference that the pope had privately urged Mr. Blair to “make use of all the resources offered by international law to avoid the tragedy of war.”

Now, in light of the postwar chaos, Cardinal Sodano has announced a newly hawkish line on Iraq from Rome.

“The child has been born,” he declared recently on behalf of the Vatican. “It may be illegitimate, but it’s here, and it must be reared and educated.”

Despite the Vatican’s vociferous opposition to the war, the terrorist attacks and the continuing insurgency in Iraq have convinced the pope that only an increased military presence, including NATO troops, can secure peace.

“There is a feeling that there really is no going back,” said a Vatican adviser.

In a trenchant interview in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Cardinal Sodano said that as the crisis in Iraq deepened, the time had come to forget past differences over the decision to invade.

His comments appear to be part of an orchestrated campaign to galvanize military and financial support for a democratic Iraq among critics of the war, such as France and Germany. Both countries have refused to contribute troops to Iraq as long as U.S. and British occupation forces remain in the country.

A subsequent front page editorial in Avvenire, an influential Roman Catholic magazine that boasts Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the pope’s vicar, as a board member, called for “tens of thousands of NATO troops” to be sent to Iraq to assist the interim government and ensure free elections.

Prominent theologian Vittorio Parsi criticized the “laziness” of countries that have refused to commit troops to Iraq unless all occupation soldiers are removed. Cardinal Ruini almost certainly commissioned the editorial, the Sunday Telegraph has learned.

“Even the European countries that opposed the American decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime know well that an Iraq in the hands of the worst terrorists and criminals goes against the interests of all,” Mr. Parsi wrote.

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