01/20/2004, 00.00
iraq
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"Iraq, a multi-ethnic country, places it hopes in federalism"

by Pierre Balanian

An interview with Msgr. Louis Sako, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) –Bloody attacks, Shiites rallying to support ayatollah Al-Sistani and Bremer in Washington and at the UN building in New York; the United Nations is rethinking its commitment to Baghdad: the Iraqi situation is changing rapidly. In a telephone interview with AsiaNews, Msgr. Louis Sako, 56 year-old archbishop of the Chaldeans of Kirkuk, paints a picture of the responsibility which attacks have in killing civilians, of the Iraqi government's future developments, and of the persecution of Christians. He ends with an appeal to Arab countries to help rebuild Iraq and not to completely destroy her.  

Your Excellency, how do Iraqis live amid uncertainty and attacks?

People have gotten used to this abnormal situation. Still, fear is creeping into their hearts; they fear the unknown, the unexpected. Attacks are carried out against innocent lives, like the one in Baghdad 2 days ago (with 25 deaths and 130 injured) where dozens of civilians, away from home and in search of work, were killed. People hardly leave home for fear of such attacks. Even us Catholics, we have scheduled masses in our churches to take place earlier and have cancelled those in the evening. In some mosques they have done likewise. Generally speaking, people are worried, yet powerless. Shops and markets are full of foodstuffs, but only those with an income can purchase them. Infrastructures are in a pitiful state; electricity goes down often; streets are barely drivable, especially due to the heavy rainfall which has occurred recently. In terms of fuel, the situation is slightly better.     

Despite everything, we have faith and hope for a better future. The Coalition and Provisional Government have made many promises. People, however, are tired of all the talk. After 35 years of daily suffering and repression they now want things done and are not satisfied with promises. 

It is difficult to convince people that, in order to be kept, promises need time. Persons, financing, actions, and time are all necessary to get the system going. People are optimistic, but they no longer have patience. We, as men of faith, have the role of urging them to be patient, of nourishing their hope. But no one has a magic wand. 

 

Why are there still attacks happening in Iraq? And who is behind such violence? 

It must be said that attacks have relatively diminished compared to a few months ago. At any rate, responsible for such attacks are people who do not want to see Iraq progress; those who are against the presence of the Americans and foreign powers; the unemployed who have lost all hope; parasites who love to fish in troubled waters; and real criminals who have gotten out of prison. There is not one single person or group responsible for the current chaos.  

I hope that the Iraqi people will stop resorting to violence; that time is given to the coalition to carry out its efforts, without attacks and disorder. After all, the victims of such attacks are the Iraqis themselves. And if there is peace and safety, then foreign investment will return, without which it will be difficult to rebuild the country. Attacks and bombs do nothing but delay our rebirth.   

Every now and then news arrives of abuses of Christians in Iraq, liquor stores being burned down, threats, kidnappings for extortion and armed robbery of wealthy Christians, especially in Baghdad and Bassorah. Is this anything to be alarmed about?

Allow me to clarify. In general there are no actions carried out against the Christian minority to such a degree. But there are actions still carried out by unemployed and desperate people. Then there are the ex-prisoners (freed by Saddam Hussein) who now run about freely and have taken up their delinquent lifestyles again. Then, there is the Islamic fundamentalist tendency, which is against alcohol, but it is not a widespread phenomenon.

 

And what do Iraqi police do?

They are too few of them. Many other police are needed. Currently, there is no authority capable of imposing respect for law and institutions. 

And the Provisional Governing Council?

What can it do? An army is needed. American troops have difficult tasks to fulfill and they are not capable of taking responsibility for public safety as well. The Provisional Governing Council can't do anything; it can only talk (about doing things).

 

These days there is much talk about the future of the Iraqi government, even about federalism. What is your opinion?

In effect it is a hot debate. And it will be complicated to find a solution. In my opinion, the best thing now would be to form a government made of persons co-opted to temporarily manage the current situation. The best solution for the future rests in geographic federalism. It is essential that value is given to each individual and his specific religious, intellectual and ethnic background. Hence there would be a system promoting one single country, one foreign policy, one army and a single currency, but under a federal state system in which no majority can oppress a minority, and much less so, like in the past, in system in which a minority oppresses a majority.

Iraq is a melting pot of civilizations, cultures, religions and ethnic groups. Under a federal system, territorial integrity is safeguarded and each region enjoys its own rights and can better manage its reconstruction, health care educational and needs, without leaving everything in the hands of an overly powerful central government which, even if unwillingly, neglects distant regions. Not everything should be concentrated in Baghdad: other cities must make progress as well.   

 

Yesterday, Shiites, supporters of ayatollah Al-Sistani, protested in Baghdad. The Shiite head wants elections immediately. Is this possible?

The ayatollah Al-Sistani is a much respected person, even by me. But we have to be realistic: his request to have elections in two months is impossible. When there is still not a general solution, one has to be content with what is feasible.

The Iraqi people are still not ready. They must first get themselves prepared. They need to assimilate democracy, learn to respect and accept others. All this is not possible in one or two days. Behind the impossible requests, there is much pressure from abroad, from those who do not fully realize what the situation is like in Iraq and what the people really need. I hope that this year is a really good one for Iraq. I want to make an appeal to everyone to help Iraq. I appeal especially to countries near to us: Remember that Iraq is an Arab country; a country having an ancient civilization, part of the world's heritage, and is the cradle of a respectable Islamic civilization. I ask all of you to help us restore peace and stability; cooperate with us in rebuilding Iraq; work with us in a positive not a negative way during this delicate phase in our history. 

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