A statue of Our Lady removed in Basra to avoid tensions between religious communities

The five-by-two-metre sculpture stood in the city centre. Since 2003, 90 per cent of Basra’s Christians have left; only 300 families are left. The Chaldean archbishop proposes a monument to all religions.

Basra (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Provincial authorities in Basra, southern Iraq, moved a statue of the Virgin last night before its inauguration.

The five-by-two-metre white sculpture was removed on the request of the Chaldean episcopate, fearful that its presence would cause tensions among the city’s various religious communities.

The statue, which was paid for by Basra’s Armenian Relief and Development organisation, had been installed in a garden in the centre of the city.

In the past, the area was known as "Hay Arman" (Armenian quarter) because of its large Armenian population, before most of the community left the city.

One of the supporters of the statue, Eczar Nimr, challenged the decision to remove it. He is a coordinator for a national project for peaceful coexistence in Iraq.

"We had the official authorisation to erect this statue, which is a symbol of peaceful coexistence in Basra . . . We condemn the dismantling of the statue and ask for explanations from the Church and the town hall."

The head of the provincial security committee said the sculpture transfer was "made at the request of our Christian brothers, as those who wanted to erect it tried to destabilise the situation in the city."

"No official approved this [installation] operation, which could bring serious consequences and animosity among the city’s various religious groups," wrote Chaldean Archbishop Habib Hormouz al-Naufali in a letter to provincial authorities.

The prelate notes that 90 per cent of the city’s Christians have left, especially after the US-led international force occupied it in 2003. Some 300 Christian families are still left in the city but many fear that religious tensions might push them to flee.

Mgr Al-Naufali has suggested that a monument to all religions be erected, and that the statue of the Virgin be placed in a church, monastery or cemetery, so that it may not be vandalised.

The diocese of Basra has 15 churches, but only four are still used for prayer.

Before 2003, Iraq had about a million Christians. At present, they number is less than 400,000.