07/18/2011, 00.00
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Kirkuk: Christians, Muslims and ethnic groups together for a new Iraq

by Joseph Mahmoud
More than 150 political and religious leaders take part in a conference organised by the archdiocese of Kirkuk and funded by the Association for Threatened Peopled in Erbil (Kurdistan). Mgr Sako urges religious leaders to promote a spirit of unity and mutual awareness among various religions.
Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – “Closure is a sign of death; openness is a sign of growth and integration. Everyone must start from himself with a desire to rebuilt,” said Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, in an address for Iraq’s many ethnic and religious groups. He spoke at a conference organised by the Catholic Chaldean Archbishopric in cooperation with the Association for Threatened Peoples in Erbil (Kurdistan).

The meeting brought together about 150 religious and political leaders representing Christian and Muslim groups of different ethnic background: Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, Assyrian, Yazidi and Mandean.

Along with Mgr Sako, three Muslim representatives of ethnic Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen background—Umer Ibrahim, Abdul Karim Khalifa and Adil Salih—also spoke at the event.

Participants looked at the issue of coexistence from a socio-cultural, educational-psychological and religious point of view.

Here are the highlights of the archbishop’s address, in which he focused on religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence among the country’s various communities.

“Iraq is made up of various groups, which constitute a mosaic of cultures, civilisations, religions, sects and languages with many faces and colours.” Mgr Sako.

“Each carries a heritage that profoundly links us all. Our country needs a cultural and social model that promotes unity through pluralism, tolerance and harmonious coexistence among various religious and ethnic groups,” he explained. “Closure is a sign of death; openness is a sign of growth and integration.”

“Everyone must start from himself with a desire to rebuilt,” he explained. “Religions must act in a positive manner.” They must “end the climate of hatred and encourage responsible participation in the population” to reach more justice and harmony among men.

For this reason, politics must favour unity and not the interests of single groups, which cause divisions and conflict, the prelate said.

For him, religious groups must engage in dialogue so that “they can know each other and learn to live together”. This, however, cannot occur without the protection of religious freedom.

Hatred in modern Iraq is the outcome of the excessive politicisation of religion, the archbishop explained. In his view, some practical steps can be taken in favour of unity whilst separating religion from politics.

1) Each Iraqi should be willing to meet the Other, show a desire to know him, and downplay a tendency to highlight differences at the expense of exchanges.

2) Political leaders should write a constitution that guarantees equal rights and duties for all citizens.

3) The education system should stress national unity, eliminating from school programmes, books and religious institutions, expressions that favour hatred and the marginalisation of one religious group as opposed to others.
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