‘Vicar of Baghdad’ seeks Irish support for Middle East peace

Anglican Canon Andrew White lived in Baghdad from 2003 until November 2014

Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad” at  the Conrad Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad” at the Conrad Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

He is known as “the Vicar of Baghdad”. He used to work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the UK and has survived “lots”of attempts on his own life in Iraq.

Few priests in the world have lived quite as dangerously as Canon Andrew White (53). And he has done so with multiple sclerosis for the past 20 years.

He was in Dublin on Monday to lobby the Department of Foreign Affairs in relation to support for peace efforts in the Middle East.

“Whether you like it or not, Ireland is a highly respected country. It has been through terror. It has lived through a conflict and it has come out stronger. So as we look at Ireland we see hope.”

He is president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. It works “with religious and political leaders, also with the Jewish leaders. We had the first official meeting between Israel and Iraq. Nobody knows about that. It was last year.”

Instructed to leave

He lived in Baghdad from 2003 as vicar at St George’s Church, the only Anglican church in Iraq, until instructed to leave for safety reasons by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in November 2014. He is now based in Jordan.

Where Islamic State is concerned Canon White is unequivocal. “I believe that the only way of dealing with them is to have troops on the ground. I don’t believe in just bombing from the sky,” he said.

Under Saddam Hussein, “Christians had a brilliant deal”, he said, because Saddam also belonged to a minority. Once the Americans withdrew, “within eight months [Islamic State] is formed and our people were then seriously persecuted”.

Today, he added, “Christians have no security in the Middle East apart from one place, Israel. It’s a bizarre thing to say.”

‘He’s a bad guy’

Looking to Syria, he noted that “Assad protected the Christians and he still does. What we’re really worried about is what will happen if Assad isn’t there. He’s a bad guy and if he’s removed do you think a good guy would come? I don’t. I’m going to see Assad next month.”

He knows Assad personally. “I used to work with him. He was an eye surgeon, I was his anaesthetist in England [before he became a priest]. I was his gas man.”

In Baghdad and surroundings, he continued, “at least 1,700 plus of my people” were killed. There were also attempts to kill him “lots of times. I can’t even tell you how many times.” Now, he added, “I go back in secret.”

In Jordan “my parish is all the Iraqi refugees, the Iraqi Christians who have fled for their lives.” Most have seen their families killed. All “are one thing, Christian. All the denominations are gone. I’m not called the Anglican priest. I’m just their priest.”