Baghdad (AsiaNews) - "The nice, clean and open Baghdad of my memory is very different from that of today". There was a time when the Iraqi capital was a centre "of art, music and entertainment; a safe, humane and free Baghdad, a city we all remember, different from the city of poverty, misery, insecurity, filth and violence we have today," said Mgr Saad Sirop Hanna, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad who spoke to AsiaNews.
His views confirm the findings of a recent survey by the Mercer Consulting Group. In a recent study, the New York-based organisation examined the quality of life in 239 cities around the world. Measuring factors like political stability, crime, and pollution, the Iraqi capital comes out dead last, worse even than the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, which is currently embroiled in a bloody war.
Considered a model for the Arab world until the 1970s, after decades of conflict the city has turned into a nightmarish reality for the civilian population, helpless vis-à-vis terrorist violence and crime.
A cultural, economic and political centre for both East and West, the city has fallen from grace. Terrorist attacks, water and power shortages, a sewage system on the verge of collapse, high unemployment and rampant corruption, kidnappings for ransom are but daily occurrences.
Once upon a time, the city was a multi-ethnic and cultural hub, home to Muslims, Christians, Jews and many others, but all this has changed. Centuries of history, culture and coexistence are now things of the past.
In explaining the reasons for its decline, the auxiliary bishop offers clear albeit bitter thoughts that spare no one.
Baghdad's decline "is our fault," he said, "but also that of the whole world. It is the fault of the Americans, who used force and removed a regime, but also took away order and morality from so many."
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship in 2003, his successors built "Iraq on false principles and the country is now "divided, ethnic, inhuman."
"It's our fault," Mgr Hanna said, "because we were not up to the challenge and were not prepared for this. But it is also the fault of a world in which might is right, one in which the strongest dominates and decides the fate of others."
Religion shares part of the blame because "it failed give unity to our Iraq," which today is divided along religious and ethnic lines.
For the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, little can come from next month's elections. Although some call for "tangible changes, because all of us are face violence and insecurity," others fear an increase in violence.
For the prelate, improving the country's economic, artistic and cultural life requires a "change in people's ideas and outlook". In his view, since "Democracy is culture, we must start with education and training."
As Christians made a "great contribution to Iraq's history, today they need to focus on education and be an example," Archbishop Hanna Saad Sirop said in concluding.
"Their openness must give others an opportunity to reflect," he added. "They must work with others with courage and self-sacrifice," hoping that their positive model can help others "change".
However, with general elections set for next month, many Iraqis fear a rise in attacks.
Since the fall of Saddam's regime in Iraq, 2013 was the bloodiest year, with more victims than in the bloody two years of 2006 and 2007, and the slaughter continues.
Government figures indicate that last February, about a thousand people died in attacks against Shias and government targets.
The Christian community has borne the brunt of this. Before the US invasion and Saddam's ouster, the country had a million Christians. Recent estimates put their number at about 300,000.