09/12/2019, 18.02
IRAQ
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Card Sako urges support for the Christian presence in Nineveh, threatened by tensions and violence

Armed Shia groups are again trying to achieve a "demographic shift" in the Plain. For the Chaldean primate, it is a moral and national duty to defend the permanence of the Christian community. Armed groups must be pulled from the region and development projects funded.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The Government and people of Iraq have a "humanitarian, moral and national" duty for to support the survival and permanence of Christians in the Nineveh Plain as an "integral part" of the local and national social fabric, this according to Card Louis Raphael Sako.

The Chaldean Primate penned a heartfelt appeal to Iraqi political leaders posted on the patriarchate website, which was sent to AsiaNews for information. In it, the cardinal stresses that it is essential to "remove injustices" and guarantee "fairness and rights" to Christians. They represent a rich component of the country’s history and civilisation, who seek “equality”, not "privileges”.

Catholic and Church leaders in northern Iraq complain that armed Shia groups "threaten" the future of Christians in the region. Recently, for example, the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (al-Hashd ash-Shaʿabi) imposed a curfew on the plain and Tal Afar district during Ashura, the Shia holy day, as a security measure against attacks during the processions commemorating the death of Husayn ibn Ali (Muhammad’s grandson) and his followers.

Similarly, relations between Shia armed groups and the Iraqi army have been tense throughout the summer as each tried to impose its control. This, and the limited return of Christians who fled Nineveh plain because of the Islamic State group jeopardise the Christian community’ survival.

For Patriarch Sako, "the suffering of Christians is part of the suffering of Iraqis", but they have "suffered more than others" because of "hatred and government shortcomings." In his view, Christians are fed up with the power struggle in the Plain, primarily around an attempt to achieve a "demographic shift" in the traditionally Christian majority area.

Armed groups tend to target Christians because they "refuse rule on a sectarian or ethnic basis" and ask for "joint management", working "in harmony for the common good".

The ongoing conflict in the Nineveh Plain is aimed at “uprooting Christians in a territory that was historically theirs”. After almost two years since the liberation "only 1 per cent of the displaced has returned to Telkief and Batnaya". And "The number of people killed or displaced is high” as a result of a “systematic” land grab, Card Sako writes.

"The situation has become very dangerous and must be addressed before it is too late". Shared suffering by Iraqis must "change the management of diversity", starting with a "stronger and more inclusive citizenship, law enforcement and respect for human dignity.”

For the cardinal, the emergency can be addressed if certain goals are implemented. For a start, all armed groups, whatever their affiliation, should withdraw from Nineveh Plain in accordance with a government decree. Security must be enforced by the federal police, incorporating locals who have so far controlled the territory. Development plans must provide job opportunities. Foreign fundamentalist Christian groups who come to proselytise must be kept out because their real goal is to deform the identity and theology underpinning the Christian faith.

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