Sunday, April 10, 2005

Iraq and St. Peter

An American soldier was in St. Peter's square when he spotted something most unexpected: an Iraqi flag. The American (Seeba) made his way over to the flag and discovered a lone Iraqi:

He extended an arm to hug Bashar Behnam, 26, an Iraqi Syriac Catholic from the northern city of Mosul, who claimed to be Iraq's only representative at Friday's funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Seeba's final assignment during a year-long deployment in Iraq was to protect voters in Mosul during national elections in January. Five of his close friends were killed during his unit's deployment in Tikrit and Bajee. But Seeba described it as America's sacrifice for Iraqis to be free.

"When you see this," he said of Behnam's flag, "it makes it definitely worth it." Displaying the Iraqi flag in Vatican City "just lets them know they are getting their freedom, that they don't have to be afraid anymore."

He turned to Behnam and added, "I just hope you're happy with your country and how it's progressed."

"I feel so good, being the only Iraqi here today," Behnam replied, seeming a bit embarrassed by all the attention.

He said he visited the Iraqi Embassy on Thursday and asked if there was a flag that did not have "Allahu akbar" inscribed amid the banner's three green stars. He felt the Arabic inscription would carry too much of an Islamic connotation for such a Christian setting, but it was the only flag available.

He said embassy officials were proud that he was willing to wave it at the pope's funeral. "They were very cooperative," he said.

As he spoke, three Italians approached him to confirm that, indeed, he carried the flag of Iraq. Then they burst into applause.

Read the whole story here. A tip 'o the hat to Chrenkoff for the pointer.

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