08/09/2022, 15.56
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Card Sako: Christian pain caused by the Islamic State in the Nineveh Plain is still raw

by Dario Salvi

Eight years after the Islamic State seized the Nineveh Plain, families are still waiting to get their homes and land back. Opposing interests are keeping the country politically paralysed. The Chaldean primate stresses the importance of citizenship and equal rights, and a “courageous national dialogue”.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Eight years after Christians fled the Nineveh plain following the advance of the Islamic State (IS) group, the pain "remains raw" and the lack of prospects feeds “anxiety and disappointment,” this according to Card Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad.

In a message to the faithful, the Chaldean primate decries the lack “of a minimum level of citizenship" and respect for "human rights” even today, so much so that, after so many years, many homes and properties have not yet been returned in a climate “of violations, humiliations, exclusion from the labour market without real representation in Parliament.”

On the night of 6 and 7 August 2014, the feast of the Transfiguration, tens of thousands of Christians fled the Nineveh Plain ahead of the offensive by the Islamic State, which had already seized Mosul where they branded Christian homes and property with the letter N, Nasrani (Nazarene), meaning Christian.

The IS group profited from the collapse of Iraq’s regular army, the success of its extremist ideology in Iraqi society, and the sudden retreat of Peshmerga forces.

In that terrible August 2014, the men of the "caliphate" seized lands inhabited by Christians for centuries, forcing them to flee to Kurdistan with only the clothes on their back.

For the Chaldean primate, Iraqi Christians should be recognised as citizens, enjoy equal rights, and be acknowledged as the country’s “second-largest monotheistic religion”.

He hopes that the plans for government reform envisaged by the Sadrist bloc and the Kurdish government "will also include Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans" under the banner of “shared national spirit,” heeding the call for "security, dignity and freedom" made by Pope Francis in his visit in March 2021.

“Hopefully, they can obtain rights hitherto denied," the prelate added. He hopes to see action against hate speech, even from pulpits, education reform, and a more positive treatment of religions because coexistence "demands respect".

However, after so many years, the situation remains difficult, with a trickle of families coming back to Mosul and some land and homes returned to their rightful owners.

According to the latest figures, only 40 per cent of Christians who fled Mosul and the Nineveh Plain have returned, while emigration from Erbil is taking entire families to Europe, the United States or Australia in search of peace and opportunities for their children.

Those who remain, or those who have come back after the Islamic State’s military defeat, are struggling to restart social and economic life, rebuild places of worship, and renovate ancient churches and historic monasteries.

Complicating matters, the country’s political institutions are stalled 10 months after the last parliamentary election by the failure of MPs to elect a president and approve a new cabinet.

The paralysis has been compounded by the resignation of MPs close to Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, whose faction won the largest number of seats. With parliament the subject of protests and occupation, fresh elections are a strong possibility.

For Patriarch Sako, the current situation appears "locked" and "devoid of public interest". Talks and negotiations are needed to outline "a road map of reforms" that Iraqis “have been waiting for 19 years.”

For this reason, he “strongly supports the initiative of Prime Minister [Mustafa] al-Kadhimi" in favour of a “courageous national dialogue”.

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