Iraq’s pontifical Catholic college secured by US soldiers

Iraq’s pontifical Catholic college secured by US soldiers

Freelance photojournalist Michael Yon is embedded in Baghdad with the 1-4 Cavalry out of Fort Riley, Kansas, and he documents in both words and photos the unit’s fortification of the abandoned Pontifical Babel College in one of the worst neighborhoods of that city as their new home for the next year.

The college, which as a pontifical college has direct ties to the Pope, is part of the Chaldean Catholic Church. It was abandoned in June 2006 as the area became too deadly to stay.

But when they left, they left in a hurry. It remains in pristine condition except for layers of dust. In an area where looters will steal even the screws from the walls, computers, copiers, and an entire library remain unmolested.

The college was abandoned, as if the people were beamed up and out somewhere without warning. In fact, they were warned to leave with death threats, issued by people who make good on death threats every day in this city.


I called one of the church officials in California who told me the people moved to Irbil, in the Kurdish north. … It might sound so distant, my writing these words from Baghdad (and now Basra), but when I contacted church officials in California, they were happy for any news of the college. These people are very real and reachable. They have a website explaining their mission and facilities.


And a library like I haven’t seen in a long while …

… periodicals, journals, magazines in a dozen languages …

… paperbacks … hardcovers … theology, philosophy, history …

… and for some, a title that seemed especially relevant.

It could have been a university in the States. General Petraeus got a PhD back at Princeton, but will his ideas work here?

After immediate security, our soldiers’ second job was to secure the valuables into the library and begin an inventory.

Books in Arabic, English, French, German and other languages. Thousands of books. On that first night, as our soldiers secured the college, they let me photograph everything they did.

Yon points out that the soldiers are at great pains to secure all the property of the college and keep it safe. He relates that one officer even forbid the men from reading books in the library because they don’t have permission. Perhaps that’s too bad. I’d like to think of our soldiers reading some good Catholic theology. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of St. Blog’s own author-bloggers have books in that library.

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