In a video, the Chaldean primate praises the document signed by the Pope and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar at a conference sponsored by the French Senate. In Iraq, protesters make unprecedented demands. Confessional conflicts are a "scandal". Constitution, citizenship and infrastructure are needed to revive the country.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Chaldean Patriarch Card Louis Raphael Sako yesterday delivered a taped speech at a conference on ‘Building peace in the Middle East to promote cultural and religious diversity’, sent to AsiaNews for wider circulation.
In it, the Primate of the Chaldean Church says that the Document on human fraternity for world peace and living together, signed last February by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), should be treated as a guideline to follow for true "living together".
For Card Sako, the document is not only important at a religious level, but can also serve as a blueprint to rebuild Iraq’s social, political and economic fabric.
He could not personally attend the meeting, sponsored by the French Senate, due to Iraq’s current social and political instability. The latter led him to cancel Christmas celebrations and send the video message in order to remain close to his people at such a chaotic time.
Card Sako noted the unprecedented number of protests, and the “diversity of participants and demands", and praised the "peaceful grassroots movement" which has nothing to do with "political parties or sectarianism". In his view, "What the protesters are demanding is a civilised nation, with a pluralistic democracy that allows the participation of all Iraqis, without exception.”
The patriarch’s address comes at a difficult time. Since early October, an increasingly wider protest movement has developed across the country against the government and the authorities. Police have cracked down hard on demonstrations, but in the end Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had to resign. Protestors, irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation, want to see the fall of the whole political class.
In late November repression intensified, when the Iranian consulate in Najaf was attacked twice, followed by the death of more than 450 dead and 20,000 wounded.
The government has tried to promote reforms, but protesters have dismissed them as "insufficient". Instead, they want "a change in regime, which they deem sectarian and corrupt,” Card Sako said.
At present, no national conversation is underway and the country is deadlocked. “Every day that goes by leads the country into the unknown.” Two years since the Islamic State group was driven out of Mosul, Iraq is still caught up in a "paradox". One the one hand, people want to turn the page; on the other, “cleavages still run deep.”
Ethnicity, religion, politics and geography continue to divide; only a “shared notion of citizenship” can heal the rifts. “The only solution is to transcend divisions" for "the future of Iraq and our region". Yet, “in order for citizenship to become real and not remain a vague concept, it must materialise in Iraq’s public services," the cardinal said.
What is more, religious cleavages are “a scandal" that has also affected Christians whose numbers fell from 1.8 million in 2003 to less than half a million today "because of persecution and emigration".
By contrast, citizenship "must be the means for religions and spiritual currents to free themselves from the weight of politics and dedicate themselves to charity and the good of the souls of their faithful. Freed from the political role that the history of Iraq has thrust upon them, religions can once again fulfil their true mission.”
For the prelate, Iraq’s renaissance needs a constitution that guarantees citizenship to all within a democratic context, untouched by ethnic and sectarian affiliations. Hate speech and fanaticism must also be firmly banned.
In the wake of the Islamic State group’s defeat, the country’s biggest challenge is education. This would require changing textbooks by editing out all hateful content. The authorities must provide a proper reading of the laws and upgrade the legal system, not to mention build new infrastructure to boost the country's economy.