Mgr Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, warns that the problem is “real and serious”. The government has so far stopped 50 sham sales, but at least 350 transactions are involved. The Catholic Church has tried to help in getting properties returned but it faces with “powerful people”.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – “The numbers are unclear but this is real and serious. For some time, Christian houses and properties have been the object of seizures or illegal occupations and this is unfair”, said Mgr Shlemon Audish Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, reacting to a recent investigation by al-Sumaria, an Iraqi Arabic-language TV network that ran a story about the illegal seizure of at least 350 Christian-owned properties.
For the right-hand man of the Chaldean patriarch, this is especially tragic since it comes on top of the tragic flight or emigration Christians had to endure in the past few years. Forced seizure or illegal occupation are in fact taking place in the Nineveh Plain, where thousands of families fled following the arrival of the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014.
“The Church has tried to tackle the problem to get homes and assets returned to Christians,” Mgr Warduni said. “In some cases, our intervention has led to restitution; in others, nothing could be done. We ran up against powerful people.”
According to the TV investigation, the Niniveh plain has “the highest number of crimes”, disproportionately against Christian properties, especially private homes. Thugs and fraudsters have taken advantage of the absence of the legitimate owners to take over buildings, falsifying papers to make restitution difficult. Local Christians have been especially targeted, more than any other group.”
A source cited in the investigation said that “around 100 properties were transferred to people under false names”. In addition, “dozens of properties in other cities that have been taken by influential figures or local bosses and have not been returned to their legitimate owners.”
The authorities have tried to address the problem, stopping the purchase and transfer of Christian-owned properties in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Basra (southern Iraq).
The steps taken include greater checks and stricter rules. The sale of some 50 Christian-owned homes and buildings was cancelled in various parts of the country.
However, this is only a small part of a much wider problem that has been going on for some time, as the former auxiliary bishop of Baghdad had previously reported to AsiaNews when he spoke of “targeted seizures and attacks”.
For the prelate, criminals “take advantage of poor and desperate people” in a context of widespread illegality because of the “lack of control and oversight” by the proper authorities.
“Many people tell me, tears in their eyes, that they have lost their homes and cannot do anything about it. The patriarch and the bishops have tried to intervene and help but it is not always possible to correct certain situations.”
Nevertheless, “The problem of abuse, violations, and stealing must end,” the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad said. “It is the task of the government, both central and local administrations, to solve this emergency. We have had enough with the corruption and stealing. Iraq’s revival requires proper institutions, public authorities and officials.”