03/03/2005, 00.00
IRAQ
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Christians throng churches, no longer leave Iraq , says Bishop of Baghdad

Shiite-Kurdish alliance is forming ahead of next week's inaugural session of the new National Assembly.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/ACN) – "The faithful are attending masses as before—they are not afraid at all." Succinct words that Mgr Andraos Abouna uses to describe the situation of Iraq's Christians. Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad's Chaldeans, Mgr Abounda is also in charge of the Assumption Church in Baghdad's western district of Mansour.

According to the Bishop, there are positive signs for Iraq's Christians. Fewer and fewer of them are coming in asking for baptism certificates to seek asylum in other countries. On the contrary, "many families are coming back to Baghdad from Syria," he said, "and I think many more people will be back to Iraq in the future."

Describing a dramatic improvement in Iraq, especially since the elections of January 30, Bishop Abouna said that "with [. . .] increased security, hope was growing in Baghdad. The Iraqi Army [now] controls the whole area and every day they capture more and more terrorists."
He believes that the elections gave Iraqis a reason to be proud as well as hope that theirs might become the "first country in the Middle East with democracy".

In the meantime, discussions are underway to form the new Iraqi government. Ibrahim al-Jafari, who represents the Shiite alliance and is the Shiite candidate to the post of Prime Minister in the next interim government, met Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.

All three have agreed that the make-up of the new cabinet and the assigning of posts (Talabani should become the next president) must be kept separate from the issue of whether oil-rich Kirkuk should be part or not of the Kurdish autonomous region.

That issue will be left to the National Assembly which is scheduled to meet for the first time next week. (LF)

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