01/02/2008, 00.00
IRAQ
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Hope for peace in Iraq voiced in New Year Mass

Muslim leaders are present in the cathedral. The Chaldean bishop mentions that peace is “both a collective and a personal project” that cannot exclude others. Al-Sistani’s representative gives the prelate a golden Qur’an for Christmas.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – The New Year opened under the sign of “inter-faith dialogue” and a “common effort for peace” in Kirkuk, an Iraqi city that is a symbol of coexistence among the country’s various ethnic and religious groups. Yesterday for the first time the Gospel was read in its four languages—Arabic, Assyrian, Kurdish and Iraqi Turkish—as a sign of a “tangible desire for reconciliation and harmony.”

Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, told AsiaNews local Muslim political leaders were present to show their friendship. Before some 1,500 worshipers the prelate in his homily remembered that “peace is both a collective and a personal project. In order to reach it we must accept and respect others. There is no hope without others.”

Flowers, candles and two white doves were among the offerings brought to the altar to show the “great desire for peace and reconciliation that prevails among Iraqis.”

During the Christmas period Mgr Sako, who has always been involved in inter-faith dialogue, received visits and greetings from Sunni and Shia leaders.

On 24 December a delegation led by a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was greeted at the Bishop’s Palace. It included a representative of the League of Sunni Imams, the imam of the Dialogue Bureau and about 20 tribal chiefs.

During the meeting the Muslim delegates voiced their appreciation for the role played by the Church in strengthening relations between the two religious communities and the various ethnic groups. They also expressed their satisfaction vis-à-vis the Pope’s commitment to a “sincere and courageous dialogue.”

For his part Mgr Sako expressed his respect for the imams who have played an “important role in favour of unity among the people, and rejected all forms of violence and rejection of others.”

At the end of the meeting al-Sistani’s representative gave the archbishop a copy of the Qur’an in gold writing.

The gathering also saw participants agree to set up a league of Muslim and Christian leaders to promote dialogue and coexistence.

Iraq’s defence, interior and health ministries released data that shows a drop in casualties. This has raised hopes that 2008 might reduce the level of violence. In December 568 people were killed as opposed to 606 in November, 887 in October and 840 in September.

According to US military sources, overall attacks have dropped by 60 per cent over June, a peak month.

Sources told AsiaNews that “in Kirkuk too the atmosphere is quieter. Like in Baghdad yesterday people have been able to take to the streets to celebrate the New Year.”

No improvement though in Mosul where the situation remains critical.

One possible reason for the drop in violence is the consolidation of a sense of national purpose that rejects terrorism.

Sunni leaders involved in the struggle against al-Qaeda in Iraq expressed their resolve and pledged to continue their fight despite Osama bin Laden’s latest threats.

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