Understanding the Pope
JPII said nice things about (and was very respectful towards) Islam in "Crossing the Threshold of Hope". He famously kissed the Koran. Couple that with the fact that due to declining birthrates, the future of the Church is in Africa and Asia, and voila we have:
"[The Pope] is looking ahead for the rest of this century where Christian-Muslim relations are key to peace and religious freedom in African and many parts of Asia." - Rev. Thomas Reese
The US-Iraq war will hurt Christian-Muslim relations for decades and derail the freedom to practice Christianity in Africa and Asia. I'm not sure that appeasement, however, is healthy in any relationship. A good end (good relations with Muslims) doesn't justify a bad means (giving Saddam room), but I better understand now why the Pope wants to distance himself from Bush.
Here's another reason for the Pope's solidarity with Muslims (email from a smarrt friend):
"Over the past twenty years, the Vatican has fought tirelessly at the UN and its conferences over abortion and family planning. Sometimes the US has been on its side (like now) and sometimes not (like with Clinton). Through that time, Muslim countries have been been (along with Ireland, I guess) the only nations that have stood with the Vatican on this. In fact, someone told me that if it weren't for the opposition of Muslim nations to abortion and state-mandated family planning (aka coercion), the results of all those meetings - Cairo, etc...would have been VERY different than they were."
Finally, here's a link on how the Pope views Islam. Interesting...via the wise Tom of Disputations