Iraqi Bishop Has Reason for Hope -- and Concern

Muslim Fanatics Re-emerging, Warns Chaldean Prelate

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ROME, DEC. 3, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Iraq needs help from outside to be "reborn," says Chaldean Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiyah, in northern Iraq.



During Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, this region of Iraqi Kurdistan was the object of military incursions, land seizures, and forced displacement of Christians and Sunni Muslims.

"At least 80% of the Iraqi population regards the coalition troops as liberators," the bishop said Tuesday in an interview with AsiaNews.it.

Bishop Al-Qas, 57, who was at the Vatican with other prelates to elect the future patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, said that "the situation is better now than in the last years of the former regime."

"We have electricity 24 hours a day, food is found with greater facility, people are going back to work in the fields, hospitals function, there are private clinics and also medicines," he said. "I can say that life is better than before."

Bishop Al-Qas hopes that the U.S.-led coalition will help Iraq to build a secular democracy, calling it the only possibility for freedom for Christians and Muslims.

Commenting on the situation of Christians in Iraq, the bishop recalled that two months ago, in Mosul, missiles were launched against the house of Dominican nuns.

"There have been death threats against Christians; many faithful have fled from Basra," he confirmed.

"The Muslim fundamentalist movement is freer today," he continued. "In the time of Saddam Hussein they acted secretly; they would send anonymous threatening messages, urging even bishops and priests to convert to Islam. Today these fanatics are re-emerging with greater freedom."

The bishop observed: "It must be said that also under Saddam Hussein there was a veiled persecution: It was prohibited to give children non-Arabic names. If the latter were from mixed marriages, they had to be registered as Muslims. This law still exists."

Bishop Al-Qas added: "There are two Christian representatives in the council of the provisional Iraqi government: Yonada Kanna, a former Minister who now represents the Christian movement in the provisional Government in Baghdad, and Bahnan Al Basi, who is the brother-in-law of one of our bishops. Sarkis Aghagian, the Minister of Finance in Iraqi Kurdistan, is a Christian."

In regard to the role of Christians in Iraq, the bishop said that "our mission is always to witness to the teaching received from Jesus Christ. To raise our voice against injustices, to denounce them, to defend and protect the weak, to value and respect human rights for all, not just for Christians."