05/29/2020, 16.51
IRAQ
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Iraqi priest: Infections aside, COVID-19 is sinking the economy, helping the Islamic State

For Fr Samir hunger “could be worse" than the coronavirus. Unemployed youth and families without resources could be targeted for jihad recruitment. In Kurdistan churches were closed again after a partial easing. Young Christians died in Baghdad from the coronavirus.

Erbil (AsiaNews) – The virus of hunger “could be worse" than COVID-19 and there is a strong risk that the economic crisis triggered by the novel coronavirus "could fuel a crime wave and give new impetus to terrorist groups,” said Fr Samir Youssef, parish priest in Enishke, Diocese of Amadiya, Iraqi Kurdistan, speaking to AsiaNews.

The clergyman believes that “recruiting young people" left jobless and without prospects for the future may have already begun. In fact, the Islamic State (IS) group) has "regained strength in certain areas" of the country, exploiting "economic, social and political weaknesses" because "having money and resources" can draw people to jihad, Holy war.

In the Middle East, Africa or elsewhere in the world, extremist groups, from IS to al-Qaeda, "are looking for social and economic weakness to attack”. The hardships caused by the novel coronavirus have drastically reduced the means "to fight fundamentalism" and this has favoured new attacks. “It is no coincidence that a dozen soldiers near Kirkuk were killed recently" during an attack "by a local IS cell".

For the clergyman, it is not “only about Iraq". If so far, extremism was "associated with Sunnis, more and more extremist groups might emerge among Shias in the context of the clash between Iran and the United States.” Some militias “target, first of all, moderate Muslim groups" and represent “an actual danger.”

The parish priest of Enishke, who was the beneficiary of AsiaNews Adopt a Christian from Mosul campaign, fears that the country might come under another lockdown to contain the virus.

“When we had a curfew here in Iraqi Kurdistan, we managed to limit infections,” he explained. “With the reopening, we have had new cases, especially involving people from Baghdad, where most infections have occurred.”

Some of the victims were Christians. “A Christian nurse, only 25, died yesterday in the capital. Before that, another young woman, member of parish choir in Baghdad, also died from the virus.”

The situation was better in Kurdistan, so much so that the authorities had authorised the reopening of commercial activities as well as churches and places of worship. This was reversed yesterday as new cases were reported in the region.

Fr Samir notes that "With the easing of restrictive measures, this was inevitable, also because not everyone respects the pandemic containment measures, like wearing masks and social distancing.

“Whilst links between Erbil and Baghdad are open, communications between Erbil and Dohuk have been cut. People can travel without restrictions to and from the capital. This has led to new infections, including four cases in Ankawa (out of 9 in Erbil) and seven in Dohuk.”

The health emergency comes on top of economic problems, affecting an already critical context due to years of wars, extremist violence and internal clashes.

“The crisis is starting to bite. Sixty per cent the workforce has lost their jobs, the government is finding it increasingly difficult to pay salaries and some families have not received any money for at least two months.

"The collapse in oil prices, the main if not only source of income for Iraq, was a very serious blow.” It is “even more evident" that it was a mistake to rely almost exclusively on the earnings from the black gold, "whilst many factories have been destroyed over the years.”

The Church's help and support has also been affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic, because "for some time, with the banks closed, no aid could arrive. Now we can count on food donations that we have distributed to the neediest families.”

“We want people feel that we are close to them, that we remain a point of reference for the weakest, bringing the comfort of the Lord and the little food and basic necessities we manage to collect.”

“At the end of the tunnel darkness still lurks. No one knows how to go beyond it, not only here, but around the world. After two months of lockdown, we see a tsunami building up, threatening to engulf the economy.”

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