Saturday, January 20, 2007

Chaldean bishop fears growing divisions in Iraq.

Always up-to-date on the situation of the Church in Iraq (and in many other countries), Rome-based AsiaNews has an interview with the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, Msgr. Louis Sako. As Iraq has become more and more divided and Iraqi Christians have been further and further marginalized, Archbishop Sako has acted as a courageous advocate for national unity and for the rights of all Iraqis. His voice has been too little heard, and it would be worth your while to read what he has to say. Here's Archbishop Sako's assessment of the overall situation in Iraq:

Iraq is sliding towards division. Ongoing clashes show that and the Americans are doing nothing to stop that. The north is Kurdish (Kurdistan), the south is Shia (Shiastan), and the centre is occupied by Sunnis (Sunnistan). Internet sites and papers are already publishing the new political maps! This will have serious consequences for neighbouring countries like Turkey, Syria and Iran, where the local Kurdish population is demanding autonomy or independence but where local governments are opposed. The division of Iraq is not a solution and will not bring peace and stability.

The effort to divide Iraq into ethnic and sectarian enclaves fails to reflect the diversity found in each region. Take, for example, Archbishop Sako's city of Kirkuk:

Huge interests and dangerous tensions gravitate around Kirkuk. The city is not homogeneous, nor ethnically uniform. Residents are Muslim, Christian, Kakai, Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians. Will it be an independent political and administrative entity? Annexed by Kurdistan? Or by the neighbouring Sunni province? Everyone is waiting for the referendum which won't be easy to pull off.

On January 13 rebels shot dead two businessmen and blew up a Shia mosque under construction in the Nida neighbourhood, on the city's east side. There are thieves or people who just demand money without carrying out kidnappings. Five Christian
families have paid a ransom; others are planning to move to the north or to Syria. Things are going from bad to worse and the population is living in fear and uncertainty, not knowing where they will live!

Regarding the situation of Iraqi Christians and proposals to create a "safe zone" for them, Archbishop Sako had this to say:

Christians are confronted with increasing difficulties. For some time, some people have been thinking of gathering them in a specific area, the Nineveh plain. They would have their own territory, but to be viable the idea of a protected zone . . . needs an end to the violence and remains in any event a dangerous plan. The Nineveh plain is largely surrounded by Arabs and Christians [and] would serve as a useful and undefended buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds. In my opinion it would be preferable to work at the constitutional level and [in] each area to guarantee religious freedom and equal rights for believers of all faiths throughout the land, including Christians, who can be found everywhere.
At a time when most people concerned with the situation in Iraq seem resigned to balkanization, Archbishop Louis Sako offers a prophetic voice. We would all do well to heed his call for unity and equality in Iraq. AMDG.


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