Bishop: Don’t Exclude Christians from Inclusive Iraq

By James Reinl
Bishop Sarhad. Photo by author.
NEW YORK — Christians should not be kept out of Iraq’s inclusive political process and can help ease tensions between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, Chaldean Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Jammo told Rudaw.

“Iraq should stay together with a federal structure and more autonomy for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Christians can play a role here because they would be a soft joint between the groups; they have no ambition to control others,” said Bishop Sarhad, the senior Chaldean Catholic Bishop of America.

“A region for Christians and Yezidis would improve the stability and balance of the country,” he added.

The bishop spoke with Rudaw on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, where Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met world leaders about the Islamic State (IS), which has imposed a caliphate across Sunni-majority areas straddling the Iraq-Syria border.

Al-Abadi is forming a more inclusive government that the US hopes will counter the IS threat. Washington seeks to destroy the group with airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and by assisting Kurdish, Iraqi and moderate Syrian ground forces.

Bishop Sarhad, who was born in Baghdad but is based in San Diego, expressed concern that US-led airstrikes would kill civilians.

“I’m not in politics or the military. I speak from a human point of view. The strategy seems to work when you target militants in the desert, but when you drop bombs on cities you will hit people. If you damage so many people, you must reconsider your methods,” he said.

Christians, Yezidis and Shiites were among the people that fled Mosul and nearby areas when well-armed IS militiamen reached the city in June and lashed out on minority faith groups. Many fled north to Kurdish areas.

Bishop Sarhad thanked Kurdish officials for welcoming Chaldean Christians and others, but warned that the autonomous region was struggling to cope with some 1.4 million refugees.

“The Kurds are appreciated, absolutely. But what can you do with such a large number of refugees? It’s overwhelming for them,” he said.

Christian refugees “live one day at a time. They have the basics, but not homes. One family per room, three families together in a classroom or hall. You can survive like this for days, but winter will come and you cannot live in a tent,” he added.

Christians in Iraq have been leaving their ancestral lands since the upheaval unleashed by the 2003 US-led invasion. They have been especially targeted by the sectarian violence that has buffeted Iraq since then, and by the IS since it began a campaign of territorial conquests in June.

According to unofficial figures nearly two million Christians lived in Iraq before the invasion. Now, the number has dwindled to an estimated 600,000, with more believed to be leaving following the IS attacks.