02/03/2016, 16.48
IRAQ
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Chaldean bishop backs Barzani on referendum for Kurdish independence

The Kurdish leader says that the "time has come” for the Kurdish people to decide “their future”. A consultative referendum would express the “will" of the people. Mgr Rabban al-Qas backs a secular basis, open to all faiths, based on shared citizenship and equal rights.

Erbil (AsiaNews) – Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani has stated that the "time has come" for the Iraqi Kurds to hold a referendum on statehood. Chaldean bishop Mgr Rabban al-Qas is ready to support Massoud Barzani if the new entity is a civil state and multi-confessional, unconcerned by religious differences but focused on developing a people’s riches.

"The time has come and the conditions are now suitable for the people to make a decision through a referendum on their future," Barzani said. "This referendum would not necessarily lead to (an) immediate declaration of statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the people of Kurdistan about their future," he added.

Kurdish Peshmerga are a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in northern Iraq, and, for a long time, only they have represented the only bulwark against the relentless advance of the jihadi militants.

Nevertheless, a referendum on independence and the territories (and their oil and natural gas reserves) the new state would incorporate are a source of tension between Erbil and Iraq’s central government, which opposes an independent Kurdish nation. One of the unresolved issues concerns the Kirkuk area, which is now mostly under Peshmerga control.

Currently, both Baghdad and the Kurdish region are going through a deep economic and financial crisis, exacerbated by the collapse in the price of oil, which represents the bulk of their revenue.

Questioned on the matter, Mgr Rabban al-Qas, Chaldean bishop of Amadiya and Zakho, in the homonymous governorate on the border with Turkey and Syria (Iraqi Kurdistan), said that "the time has come" for an autonomous Kurdish entity.

For the prelate, this can revive the economy and lead to the development of an area that has been for far too long victimised by war and abuse, yet one that has been able to demonstrate in the recent past that it knows how to resist jihadi barbarism.

"Kurdistan today is not a paradise,” the prelate explained, “but we live better here than elsewhere . . . Here we can and must help those in need, whilst Baghdad has never really helped this region, even though today there are mostly Arabs, especially in Erbil and Dohuk."

After the Islamic State group came to prominence, hundreds of thousands of Christians fled the Nineveh Plain and found refuge in the Kurdistan region. According to the bishop, a new reality can and should emerge on this basis.

"We need a Kurdish state that allows everyone to live together,” Mgr Rabban said, “not a state that is separated and confessional.” The state should be “based on secularism, a shared citizenship, and a constitution for everyone with equal rights and duties for Muslims, Christians and Yazidis."

The prelate is not soft with Iraq’s central government in Baghdad, which has failed to protect the interest of the Iraqi people and allowed the mass exodus of Christians because of violence, persecution, and abuse.

Although the Iraqi Church has always promoted national unity, for the prelate, times have now changed. "Promoting this referendum on separation is the right thing to do, to know who we are,” he said.

“I also believe that the great powers like the United States are pushing in this direction. A Kurdish state that it is not anti-Baghdad can be a centre of freedom and coexistence . . . and ultimately Turkey will have to accept that. Barzani certainly does not want to make war on the Turks."

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