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Is a Secular State the Best Option for Christians in Iraq?

James Gordon

Aid to the Church in Need - published on 04/30/14

Iraqi Christians have high hopes for their futures going into this week's election.

With a view to the Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for next Wednesday (30th April), representatives of the Catholic Church in the country have expressed high expectations. Archbishop Amel Nona, the Chaldean spiritual leader of Mosul in northern Iraq said when talking to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on Wednesday, 23rd April: "We want our country to return to stable conditions where all can live in peace." Iraq, the Archbishop continued, had to find a way out of the situation it had found itself in since the Iraq war eleven years ago. "Iraqis are fed up with what’s happening in their country." He cited the examples of the precarious security situation, the corruption, the country’s economic plight and the emigration of highly trained people.

Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna of the Chaldean Patriarchate in Baghdad also stressed to Aid to the Church in Need on Wednesday the importance of the elections. "The eyes of the Iraqi people are fixed on these elections. For many they provide a reason to hope for a better future." The Bishop went on to say that the Church leadership was encouraging the faithful to take part in the elections. "It is our task to strengthen the confidence of Christian citizens in government institutions and to improve these institutions in terms of human rights." According to Bishop Hanna, Christian candidates were also running in the elections. On the one hand, the lists included various individuals from among whom members would be elected to the parliamentary seats reserved under the quota arrangement for Christians. On the other hand, Christians were running on democratic and liberal lists compiled by Islamic and non-Islamic citizens. 

But Bishop Hanna showed little optimism when it came to the openness of the parties to Christian concerns. "All non-Christian parties have their agenda which is dominated by ideological and religious precepts. These parties lack civic and democratic maturity. They are so fixed on their own agenda that it’s difficult for them to reconcile it with the principles and interests of the Christian community." And yet, according to Archbishop Nona, the Christians had very fundamental concerns: "As Christians we want first and foremost in our country a genuine peace which respects human rights. People should be able to live their lives without having to fear that they will become a target because of their Christianity. A secular state would be the solution. By this I mean a constitution made for all citizens and not only for the majority." Bishop Hanna explained that the future of the Christians depended on legislation which respected human rights and guaranteed equality, freedom and human dignity for all. 

The elections for the 328 seats in the Iraqi parliament are taking place in the midst of a precarious security situation. According to United Nations figures, the year 2013 was the bloodiest since 2008. 8,868 dead were counted. But the attacks still continue in 2014. The UN recently claimed that 2028 Iraqis were killed in attacks by the end of March. In addition thousands were wounded. In recent times the political antagonism between the country’s Shia majority and the Sunni minority has turned violent in Anbar province, where the majority of the inhabitants are Sunnis. Since the end of last year fierce clashes have occurred there between the central government and the radical Sunni groups. 

Courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need

Tags:
FaithIraqIslamReligious Freedom
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