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Iraqi Catholics in U.S. See Continuing Challenges in Their Homeland

June 18. 06

www.totalcatholic.com

Appointing members of rival sectarian factions to key positions in Iraq's permanent government does not guarantee religious freedom, security and long-term stability in the war-ravaged nation, according to U.S. Iraqi Catholics.

Iraq's Parliament recently approved the appointments of a Sunni Muslim as defense minister, and of two Shiites as ministers of the interior and national security departments. Kurds, two Christians and members of other groups also comprise the 39-member Cabinet.

In the December 2005 election, Iraqis elected only three Christians to the nation's 275-member Parliament. Christians comprise about 3 percent of the country's estimated 27 million population.

Some in Parliament favor amending the constitution, which requires laws to conform to provisions of Islamic law. But fundamentalists in the legislature want Islam to be the state religion, giving "Muslim clerics the power to dictate law" and to veto measures, said Bishop Sarhad Jammo of St. Peter the Apostle Eparchy, based in El Cajon.

Robert Putrus of Escondido, who attends St. Peter's Chaldean Cathedral in El Cajon, said Christians in Iraq would continue to suffer if the constitution does not grant religious freedom. Christian owners of businesses, such as liquor stores, have been killed by radical Shiites bent on religious cleansing, he said.

In amending the constitution, the top priority for factions in Parliament is protecting their own interests, not working for religious freedom, according to Sam Kosa of St. Michael Chaldean Catholic Church in El Cajon. "Kurds want to expand their territory; Shiites want to follow Islamic law; and Sunnis want more power," which they lost after former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's fall, he said.

Putrus said it is unlikely the constitution will be amended to allow religious freedom. "There has been no separation of church and state in Iraq before, during and after Saddam's rule," he said.

The Iraqis interviewed foresee a lengthy struggle as the new government strives to curb terrorism and bring long-term security and stability to their homeland.

Putrus believes that representation of rival factions in the government "will eventually mitigate the violence. Militia members and terrorists pose the greatest threat to Iraq's security," he said. "Militias have allegiance to radical affiliations, not to the country."

Putrus disagrees with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's goal of integrating militias into Iraq's security structure. The militias should first be disbanded; then volunteers could join Iraq's security forces, he said.

Kosa favors integrating militia members into Iraq's security forces, but only those who are qualified, trained and loyal to the government. He said the country's military and police forces must be stabilized to curb terrorist attacks.

Bishop Jammo, on the other hand, said some militias were originally formed to defend sections of cities that the government could not secure. "Now the militias are fighting each other," he said, noting conflicts between anti-government Sunnis and terrorists from Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The insurgents cannot be controlled until Iraq's army and police force are independent and equipped by the U.S. military, he said. Terrorist attacks also have crippled the country's infrastructure and coalition construction projects, the bishop added. "There is less electricity and running water available now than there was four years ago."

Regarding the threat of civil war, Bishop Jammo said sectarian violence could lead to such a conflict.

Kosa called the ongoing violence an "undeclared civil war." Insurgents in Baghdad, Iraq, are fighting to cleanse the area of rival factions. "It's neighbor against neighbor," he said. Iranians are supporting the Shiites, and Sunnis in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria are backing their counterparts in Iraq, he added.

Those interviewed oppose partitioning Iraq to separate Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, which some U.S. military officers claim is necessary to avoid a civil war. "Fragmenting the country into independent regions would create anger and continuous fighting," Bishop Jammo said. He favors regional governments under a united federation, which Iraq's Constitution allows.

The escalating violence has taken the lives of 2,500 U.S. troops and, according to a number of media sources, between 38,000 and 42,000 civilians.

To control the violence, "trust needs to be built among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds," Kosa said. "If the constitution is their standard, they will build that trust."

www.totalcatholic.com

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Who are the Christians of Iraq? 

June = Khzeeran

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Christian Churches in Iraq Subjected to Synchronized Terrorism March 1, 06

 

 

 

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