By Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako
The declining Christians represent an essential component of Iraq. From the dawn of Christianity until the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, they defended the values of citizenship and human fraternity; formed an effective model for that; and preserved their towns, churches and monasteries. They were attacked by terrorists, abducted, killed and their Churches were blown away after 2003. Such is the case of the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in 2010.
In 2014, ISIS occupied Mosul and the Nineveh Plain towns. Christians were driven away from their homes and their burned Churches which dated back to the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th Centuries. These Churches reflected a deep-rooted and prosperous Christian presence in this region. Today, despite the liberation of their areas, Christians have not received any support from the Iraqi Government for the reconstruction of their homes and rehabilitation of infrastructure. Moreover, the conflict has been intensified on their land to change its demographic, causing escalation of their worries and fears.
What is Going on?
Currently, Iraqi Christians are represented by 14 Churches, of which the Chaldean Catholic Church is the largest and most important. Christians have formed political parties and organizations that have done nothing useful for them. The population of Iraqi Christians has decreased dramatically after the fall of the regime in 2003, as a result of the deterioration of the security situation; the emergence of religious extremism such as al-Qaeda; the start of a series of threats, abductions and killings even among clerics.
The domination of corruption, bribes and sectarianism within state institutions, the exclusion of national competencies, and the emergence of weak Governments that fail to enforce the law and the prestige of the state hinders Iraqi Christians. Subsequently, the roles of Christians were marginalized, and unfair laws were endorsed against them.
However, the peak of injustice was the occupation of Mosul and the towns of Nineveh Plain by ISIS. This resulted in the displacement of Christians, acquisition of their properties, loss of confidence, shortage of employability that even the ministerial order for compensatory jobs was not carried out, as well as emigration in order to ensure good education for their children and a better future. It is estimated that about half a million Christians remained in Iraq so far, out of 1.5 million before 2003.
Worries and Hope
Government officials, as well as Muslim religious authorities and political parties, should take Christians’ fears and concerns seriously, reassure and encourage them to stay in their land, and continue living with their citizens confidently and peacefully aiming for fruitful cooperation.
The concern of Christians is to lift unfairness and suffering, to achieve law and equality for them and for all citizens; and to restore their confidence. Hence, they will be able to contribute with others to raise awareness among Iraqis about the values of citizenship, human rights, tolerance and respect, and consolidation of harmonious coexistence, to believe that there is a possibility to have a safe and better future for them and their children on this Earth.
To achieve this, there should be a vision of the future national state, based on democracy, law, equality and respect for diversity to prevail peace and prosperity throughout Iraq.
In the meantime, Iraqi politicians are required to rise up to the level of responsibility, in maintaining the achievements that have been made so far. In particular, to avoid slipping into a “proxy” war, by facing the current crisis between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America. Such a war will cost the entire region more casualties, destruction, division, and would certainly drive people to emigrate as refugees.
Therefore, I call on all Iraqis to open a courageous political dialogue, for developing a clear and agreed upon strategy by all political parties that would be considered as a “National Covenant”. Such document, if implemented, will help Iraqis to get out of the successive crises and devastation.
Iraqis must trust themselves, their abilities and appreciate the value of their unity, through which they will be able to challenge the painful reality, since unity, action and hope will enable them to accomplish great and lasting things for their country and their citizens.