11/16/2004, 00.00
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Bishop of Kirkuk: "Terrorists are resisting against development of democratic Iraq"

by Lorenzo Fazzini

Monsignor Sako, aligned with the Pope: "Elections in January, the beginning of a new Iraq."  Europe so far absent: it's time to get involved in the Middle East.

Rome (AsiaNews) – January elections are "the starting point for a new Iraq".  Europe cannot remain "absent" from the Iraqi crisis and should stop "wasting time in selfish interests" because "if the Iraqi model fails, it will be a disaster for the entire world".  This is what Monsignor Louis Sako, Archbishop of Kirkuk (northern Iraq) told AsiaNews.

Msgr Sako, age 56, insists that "there is no such thing as Iraqi resistance in Iraq", there are rather foreign terrorists who are "resisting" against a new Iraq, the one that the Allawi government is trying to build with January elections.  "Can killing women and children be called resistance?," Msgr Sako asks, pointing his finger against "Western media propaganda", which is only too willing to showcase what is going wrong in Iraq, instead of giving voice to the Iraqis who "are happy and looking forward to the January vote".

Here is Msgr Sako's interview with AsiaNews.

There is news every day from Iraq of violence, killings, and death: Msgr Sako, does this correspond to what your country is today?

It is not all death and destruction, much is positive in Iraq today: universities are operating, schools are open, people go out onto the streets normally.  I will grant you that, when there's a kidnapping or a homicide, the news gets out immediately, and this causes fear among the people.  But, we must remember that under 35 years of Saddam's regime, Iraqis lived in fear and if today they can protest and raise their voice, it is because they are free to do so.  There was no freedom in the past, everything was tightly controlled: now freedom exists, and it comes at a cost.  Why was there no "resistance" under Saddam?

Assassinations, car-bombs and decapitations: is that resistance or terrorism?

Is killing women and children a form of resistance?   There is no organized resistance, we must all realize that: those who commit such violence are "resisting" against Iraqis who want to build their country.  Iraqis instead are "resisting" against terrorism and are not carrying out attacks, which instead are the work of foreign infiltrators.  I have stressed this before: Saudi, Jordanians, Syrians and Sudanese have entered Iraq; Prime Minister Allawi has said this as well.  And clearly there are also Iraqi collaborators who, for money, help the terrorists hide out.

What can be done therefore to overcome this crisis?

Let Iraqis manage themselves: we have a government now that is setting up elections, and those who want to run for government can do so, freely.  Yet, these terrorists are attacking and killing: "Why?" I ask.

Good question …

The war being fought by terrorists is senseless.  What could they possibly want?  An open, modern and democratic Iraq?  In that case, they can register to vote, negotiate with the new government and use the instruments of dialogue.

January elections: an impossible utopia – as many are saying in Western media – or the way to a new Iraq?

I am certain: the elections will be the starting point for a new Iraq.  Instead, Western newspapers and broadcasters are simply peddling propaganda and misinformation:  Iraqis are happy to be having these elections and are looking forward to them because they will be useful for national unity.  Perhaps not everything will go exactly to plan, but with time things will improve.  Finally Iraqi will be given the chance to choose.  Why is there so much noise and debate coming out from the West when before, under Saddam, there were no free elections, but no one said anything?

Terrorists who claim to operate under the banner of Islam are authentic Muslims?

No.  During the current Ramadan – a time of reconciliation, conversion, prayer and penitence – they have been busy killing, decapitating, degrading the image of Islam.  This is not, and should not be, what the Islamic religion is about.

Recently, Christians were hit hard in Iraq: what prompted those bombs against churches?

Perhaps because Christians can be a tool for balance in Iraqi society and want to build a new and open Iraq which respects everyone's rights.  The war in Iraq is not one of religion.  And I would like to say this to terrorists: Christians are not the ones bombing Fallujah, we are peaceful and in favour of dialogue.  Christians have been in Iraq well before Muslims, they are not mercenaries, they fought for Iraq in the first Gulf War and have taken part in the building of the nation.

How have Muslims reacted to this violence?

Authentic Muslims Iraqis condemned the attacks against Christians:  the people on the street were asking: "Why attack churches?  For what reason?  They're not American!".

What is Europe doing for Iraq?

Europe is absent, it's not out there, the United States are on their own.  And yet Europe should react because Europeans know the Middle East much better than the Americans, they are culturally closer to Arabs, they are very familiar with the Palestinian problem and the situation in the Middle East.

So why is Europe not getting involved in Iraq?

Europe must understand that there is no time to waste on marginal or selfish interests:  the entire world needs peace.  The Middle East needs help to rediscover peace and usher Muslim countries into contemporary society, with its foundation of democracy and freedom.  If the Iraqi model fails, it will be a disaster for everyone: these terrorists groups will gain strength around the world.

What should Europe do, and Italy in particular, on the Iraq crisis?

You must help the Iraqi government to control its borders to prevent the entry of foreign terrorists.  But also provide economic help to encourage a new form of culture which is open to coexistence, the acceptance of others, respect for the human person and for other cultures.

What do you ask of Christians in the West?

To pray, not only for their fellow Christians, but for all Iraqis.  My thoughts go to those Muslims who were not able to celebrate Ramadan because of attacks and violence in general.  Pray for us all: even a hardened heart can be touched by God.

Msgr Sako, are you optimistic about Iraq's future?

I am a Christian and thus ever hopeful.  There is no denying the lack of security, but I am sure that peace will come, because violence has no future.  With time, negative aspects will disappear: it will take a bit of time, but Iraq's future is positive.
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