Lyon (AsiaNews) – He does not hide his deep concern for Iraq and the future of the Christian community there, Joseph Yacoub, an Iraqi Chaldean and professor of political science at the Catholic University of Lyon. An expert in Christianity in the Middle East with a profound knowledge of the Iraqi reality, he criticises the idea of a Christian enclave on the Nineveh plain and warns of a “political strategy that aims to eliminate Christians” which can only be halted if “the logic of divisions and self-interest is overcome”.
He is also critical of the American troop withdrawal pact, judging it a “superficial change” which will not restore full “national sovereignty” to Iraq. He is also against the electoral law, describing it as a “discriminatory measure” against Christians, who must impute the “government of Baghdad” that has failed to guarantee “unity and security in the country”. Finally, he is worried by the climate of “distrust and fear” within the Christian community, since time immemorial the guarantor of “pluralistic and rich multi-culture” in Iraq, today abandoned to its own destiny.
Below we publish the interview given by Joseph Yacoub (see photo) to AsiaNews:
Professor Yacoub, what is your opinion of the accord on American troop withdrawal by 2011, signed by the government and approved by the Iraqi parliament?
I would criticise the move, because its is merely a superficial change. For the next three years US troops will remain on Iraqi soil, and so the country will in all effects, be occupied. This situation has been ongoing for over five years now and failed to bring about substantial change in terms of security. Now we still have to see how the Barak Obama administration will move following his investiture. There is after all, a clause within the accord that provides for the possibility of to anticipate or even postpone the withdrawal.
In recent days the government has boasted of a regained sense of national sovereignty.
In my opinion it is merely an attempt to achieve formal legitimacy, but in concrete terms it changes little. The government, for example, has inserted a clause that foresees the possibility of military intervention should the country’s democratic institutions be threatened. But can we, in all seriousness, claim that the country is democratic? The presence and role of America has not substantially changed.
And yet the parliamentary vote was described as a moment of wide consensus.
Parliament was pressure into voting in favour of the withdrawal plan and the ballot is proof of this. A wide majority was actively sought to give legitimacy to the text, but the absence of 86 deputies out of 275 and 35 against, shows that in reality the majority was small.
What do you think of the electoral law that gives only six seats to minorities?
What has been done to minorities is dishonourable and discriminatory. There were a series of protests but the bill was approved. It is evident that there is a policy of marginalisation of Christians, a policy that in the case of Mosul has become persecution. It seems that there is a deliberate strategy that aims to politically eliminate the country’s Christians.
Whose best interests would this serve?
It is the fault of those who govern Iraq. In theory minorities are recognised and safeguarded by the Constitution, but here too it is a superficial declaration, because the reality is dramatically different.
The Christians who have remained in Iraq seem have been forced to a crossroads: leave or become refugees on the Nineveh Plain. Is there no third choice?
That is the point. We need to think in collective terms and look at the country in its totality, even with its obvious internal divisions. First a global vision must be elaborated, on then will we be able to consider the statute and the representation for Christians. Iraq must remain united, based on its own foundations and not on confessional, religious, ethnic criteria which only increase division. We must leave this logic behind, because it ruptures the nation.
The hypothesis of a federal nation has been mentioned
The theory of a federal state may be a valid one, but only if it is built upon a principal of unity, even with internal differences. The Constitution, because of how it was drawn up, encourages separatism; we need first and foremost to draw up a moral accord between the various factions, because without unity the nation will collapse.
But is there the will be stay united?
This is the point. Let’s go back to the Christians: creating an enclave on the Nineveh Plain will only complicate matters by negatively changing the community within the country. In the best case scenario it will become a buffer zone between the Arabs and the Kurds and could end up being exploited. It cannot be the best solution for a community that has lived in the country for centuries and that has been a concrete witness of Iraq’s pluralistic and multi-cultural society that is one of the nation’s greatest resources. Christians are Iraqi citizens in all effects; the Churches mission is to be a bridge between different culture and the conditions for this means having an Iraq that is founded on civic criteria. Not a divided country that runs the risk of folding in on itself and isolating itself. The government has to guarantee this, sustained by the international community.
What do you think of the European Union’s decision to accept 10 thousand Iraqi refugees?
Here too, the real issue is to guarantee security so they can return to their homeland. For Christians in particular, the psychological aspect is extremely important: they need to know they are not alone and isolated. I remember what my mother would say to us when we were small, almost 50 years ago: there is someone who is thinking of us and she was speaking of the Pope. We are not orphans. Christians need this psychological help and solidarity. The ideal is to help them stay in their land.
Professor Yacoub, what future do you see for Iraq?
Iraq must find the road to renewed unity, stability and peace. We are all Iraqis; we all belong to this country, regardless of our ethnic background or religious beliefs.