Iraqi archbishop condemns US

One of Iraq's most senior archbishops has sharply criticised the US for its administration of Baghdad.

Severius Hawa, Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Baghdad and Basra, told BBC News Online the electricity shortage was crippling the city and putting lives at risk.

People were sweltering in temperatures of 50C, with no telephones, no jobs, food shortages and increased illness and disorder, he said.

Speaking through an interpreter, at the end of a three-week trip to the UK, the archbishop, who opposed the war, said even supporters of the invasion were now losing patience.

But he praised the British for getting Basra back on its feet, and said the anti-war stance of the Church of England had prevented a Muslim backlash against Iraqi Christians.

His trip to the UK included preparing for the proposed visit to Iraq in October by his English counterpart, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.

He said: "Since the Americans have been in Iraq, nothing good has happened for us.

"What we were looking forward to did not happen.

"In Basra, it is better because the British know how to administrate and know the thinking of the Iraqi people because they share a history."

Mr Hawa met BBC News Online in Croydon, south London, at the rectory of Fr Toma Dawod, parish priest of the Syrian Orthodox Church in London.

Fr Dawod, who also acted as translator, blamed the recent death in Iraq of a 45-year-old relative with high blood pressure, on a health system under chronic strain.

The archbishop said mounting disorder was also preventing some people from leaving their homes at night.

He said: "My message to Tony Blair and George Bush is to think about us, about our people, to make peace and security grow in Iraq.

"And to deal with people in a Christian spirit as Christ taught us, not to punish all the people just because one person may be crazy against the Americans. Not all Iraqis are against the US."

He said he was unable to say yet whether he was happy to see Saddam Hussein toppled.

"There were people suffering under Saddam, but now everyone is unhappy," he said.

"We cannot say if it will be better or not until power and security are returned."

Saddam Hussein fostered good relations with the Christian Church, giving it money to restore monasteries, and allowing worship without persecution.

The archbishop said: "Whenever I met Saddam, like anyone else, I met him with happiness, patience and good spirit. And he gave the help I wanted."

Converts killed

The Iraq leader had a habit of putting a glass of water on the tomb of a holy person, to bless the water before drinking it, Mr Hawa said.

Baath party laws prevented the use of Biblical names or Christian schools, and Muslims who converted to Christianity were killed.

But Christianity was allowed to co-exist with Islam and the Catholic communities, with no animosity between the religions.

Even as the unpopularity of the West increased, there were no repercussions for Iraq's Christians because of the anti-war stance of Christians in the UK.

"Muslims did not hurt or kill Christians because they understood the Church of England was against war, and we saw the protests by people in England, France and the US," the archbishop said.

One Muslim leader who returned to Iraq from exile was thankful to the Anglican Church for helping his passage back, the archbishop said.

Describing the nightly bombing of Baghdad, Mr Hawa said there were missile attacks every 10 seconds.

But the fear within the capital did not prevent the churches from being full for Sunday worship, as people's faith seemed to strengthen in the face of adversity.

But since the war, donations have dwindled and the church could lose the lease on many of its buildings.

In order to ease fears the eventual government in Baghdad could be anti-Christian, talks have taken place in Jordan between Iraq's religious leaders to ensure continuing good relations.

Mr Hawa said: "We don't have any problems for the future. The problem is the people suffering now, with no money, no work and growing illness and disorder."