06/07/2022, 14.00
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Card. Sako: A 'conference' to give voice and future to Christians in Iraq

by Dario Salvi

From the political and institutional stalemate to worrying signs of radical drift, fears for the community's survival are growing. Discrimination, migration and citizenship are among the unresolved issues. Chaldean Patriarch: extremism an "aggressive cancer" that destabilises the social body.

Milan (AsiaNews) - It is time to promote a national "conference" for Christians in Iraq, gathering "all the components" present in the country to "discuss" the "most important issues" that undermine their very survival, defining "a clear vision and effective responsibility". The proposal launched in recent days by the Chaldean Primate, Card. Louis Raphael Sako, in an in-depth analysis published on the patriarchate's website represents a sort of ultimatum for the future and the very existence of the community. Christians, the cardinal recalls, are a primary and essential component of the nation and of the entire Middle Eastern area; nevertheless, since the US invasion in April 2003, the number has plummeted from one and a half million to less than 500,000. And the exodus shows no sign of abating due to a persistent climate of insecurity and lack of prospects, despite a (slightly) improved picture compared to the recent past and the jihadist drift - made up of bloodshed and persecutions - imposed by the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis).

Political, social, mental stalemate

The patriarch observes that given the "stalemate" that is by now chronic, coupled with the "steps backwards" in various sectors, the situation of the country and of Christians needs to be reconsidered through the lense of a number of priorities, which for the cardinal are as follows: building peace and stability; restructuring the state; implementing important reforms; establishing true democracy; and attaining justice, equality, and prosperity. The cardinal notes that "on the contrary, we are witnessing an escalation in political corruption, conflicting agendas, challenges and crises have been accumulated in the absence of a clear and effective strategy." 'The current political stalemate,' he continues, 'is nothing more than the natural outcome of a progressive deterioration caused by the sectarian and quota system'.

In recent weeks, Iraq has overrun the constitutionally mandated deadlines to appoint the prime minister, form the new government and elect the president of the republic almost eight months before the October 2021 parliamentary elections. A vote that, at first, seemed to overcome the pattern of confessional divisions and sectarian affiliations that has characterised the scene since the fall of Saddam Hussein. On three occasions, parliament has failed to agree on the name of the president, having failed to reach a quorum (two-thirds of the 329 seats) due to crossed vetoes between Sadrists and pro-Iranians in the Shia camp. Meanwhile, worrying signs are emerging: in May, the Ministry of Education decided to reintroduce gender separation in primary school classrooms. According to some observers, this is a preliminary test, to gauge the reaction of public opinion before extending the rule to higher education and all universities, under pressure from Islamic parties.

The unresolved problems

Christians are a primary component of Iraq in their various Chaldean, Assyrian, Syrian and Armenian souls, present long before the arrival of the Muslim Arabs; they have contributed in an essential way to the progress of society on a cultural, economic and social level. However, in recent history they have had to face challenges and threats, violations of their rights and freedom of worship, threats and slanderous accusations as "infidels and polytheists".

"These behaviours," Card. Sako - have accelerated Christian emigration" that risks upsetting factors such as diversity and pluralism, tolerance and reconciliation, which represent one of the riches. People of different faiths in Islam have the right "to be treated equally," he observes, "in terms of rights and duties. And the Muslim majority should take responsibility for the survival of the so-called minorities'.

Discrimination and the absence of a common citizenship are at the root of the many problems blocking prospects for peace, security, stability and confidence in a better future. Then there is the employment crisis, which for Christians takes on an even more thorny drift in the issue of 'quotas' that prove to be a boomerang by taking away professional opportunities. And then there are the permits issued by government authorities and administrations, all too often against payment of 'bribes', as happens in cases of restitution - often problematic - of property extorted by force or deception. The thorniest issue for the Chaldean Patriarch remains that of emigration, which has "grown in the last two decades due to instability". "The bleeding of emigration to the West," the cardinal added, "still exists because of the loss of trust, unemployment, poverty, the deterioration of basic services, the phenomenon of desertification and the failure of the various governments to build a truly civilised and democratic state."

These emergenciesgo hand in hand with attacks against Christians "in their various forms" (al-Qaeda and Isis), the seizure of property and the demographic upheaval of entire areas" as is happening in the Nineveh plain. A fragility exacerbated by the lack of authoritative Christian parties, too often fragmented and committed to defending "personal interests". "The situation," he warns in conclusion, "should make us understand that the future depends on unity. The hope is to create a front capable of originating 'one' list capable of guaranteeing representativeness. Divided we will always be marginalised, ineffective and displaced'. That is why, he concludes, it is urgent to promote a 'conference' that gives a voice to all Christians.

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