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NEW YORK (June 16, 2014)—The international community should not intervene in the struggle against ISIS extremists in Iraq, said the Archbishop of Baghdad, insisting that the priority is for Iraqi leaders to “work together” to overcome the crisis.
In an interview today with international charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Jean Sleiman stressed that political “consensus” within Iraq would be critical in overcoming the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which last week pulled off a series of military take-overs of key northern cities including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.
Speaking from Baghdad, the archbishop described how many people were trying to leave the city, fearing an onslaught from ISIS amid reports of it pressing south towards the capital. He reported that, with many roads out of the capital blocked, departures from Baghdad’s airport were fully booked until the end of the month.
The archbishop, who became Latin-rite Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad in 2001, said: “In responding to this crisis, the international community should think of the common good, not their own interests. They should think of peace.”
Speaking out against intervention by the international community, Archbishop Sleiman said: “ISIS needs to be stopped… and it needs the Iraqi leaders to work together to stop it. That is more important than getting the international community involved.”
He added: “I hope Iraqi leaders will find a consensus about how to tackle this situation or there will be a tragic outcome. I don’t know what will happen next. Of course the military will resist ISIS, but who knows if it will be strong enough. It is a possibility that the terrorists will succeed but we don’t know.”
Stating that there was “a great deal of confusion” in the capital, he said numbers were down at yesterday’s Sunday Mass which he celebrated at Baghdad’s St Joseph’s Cathedral, down the road from where he lives.
The archbishop, whose Latin-rite Catholic community is much smaller than the Chaldeans – Iraq’s largest Catholic community – added: “People I met after Mass were stressed by the situation.”
He said that, with all roads north of Baghdad closed, and others to the south full of checkpoints and other obstacles, people’s only option was to leave on one of the seven flights that depart from the capital every day.
“What all this means is that you can only leave Baghdad if you have got money to pay for a flight. In any case, flights are booked until the end of the month.”
Asked if he was considering leaving the city, the archbishop replied: “I don’t know if I should stay or go. I leave this problem to my angels.” He said people in Baghdad were “surprised” by the ISIS take-over of Mosul a week ago.
There have been reports of Sunni Muslims in the capital asking local Christians for protection money in the expectation of ISIS taking over Baghdad. However, the prelate added that in the capital there was scepticism about the reliability of reports about the Jihadists’ advance.
Archbishop Sleiman, a Carmelite originally from Lebanon, appealed for prayer for Iraq, saying: “We should all pray for peace and solidarity and for a solution to the crisis.”