Catholic bishops: between “hope and fear”, Iraq witnesses the withdrawal of U.S. troops

iraq_-_esercito_e_sicurezza1.jpgThe prelates stress the desire to “build a future in the name of national reconciliation.” “Ethnic and confessional” divisions remain and the threat of “external elements” that want to feed the chaos. In Mosul tensions between Sunnis and Kurds ongoing; reports from the capital say “the Iraqi army is not ready to take control.”

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Hope and concern. This is how Iraq is experiencing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the cities, six years after the conflict that led to the fall of Saddam Hussein and a bloody civil war. The hope is that the Iraqi people can “build a future in the name of national reconciliation.” Concerns remain, for a situation which is currently characterized by “ethnic and confessional divisions” and “the negative influence of external forces to the country.” Among these, the fundamentalist militia of al Qaeda or the neighbouring Iran, which is also marked by a deep political crisis and an internal struggle for power.

Today the official withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq begins, which should be completed by the end of 2011. To understand the spirit in which people are witnessing the withdrawal of U.S. troops, has appealed to AsiaNews, Mgr. Louis Sako – Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk in the north of the country – and Msgr. Sleimon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad.

“People are worried – says Msgr. Sako – and afraid for the future. Yesterday, Christian families did not send their children to catechism classes for first communion, and neither will they in coming days. They are waiting to see what will happen, they have little confidence”. The archbishop of Kirkuk recalls the attacks of recent days that caused dozens of casualties, and urges the Iraqi authorities to deal with the situation “with force” and show “responsibility” in managing the transition of command.

Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, tells of a climate of “great hope” on the streets of the capital, where they are celebrating the withdrawal of American troops with fireworks. “There is hope – says the bishop – for a new era of national reconciliation and cooperation for the good of the entire country, not only personal interests.” He also confirms a general feeling of “fear,” but adds the “hope of the Iraqis to be able to maintain peace by themselves.”

Internal and external threats and unresolved issues remain the main obstacle on the path to peace. “The people – said Msgr. Sako – expect reconciliation among political factions, stability, construction, infrastructure projects and the return of refugees”. The prelate is “sure” that the government will work to “stabilize the situation” but is not so sure that the target will be achieved. “I’m afraid – he adds – of the negative influence of the neighbouring countries. The Iraqi army by itself is not yet able to protect order. This is compounded by ethnic divisions exacerbated over the years that have brought deep divisions between Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, Turkmens, Kurds and even among Christians themselves. ”

Concerns that the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad shares. He speaks of “persons who are a burden and a huge obstacle to the path for peace” because “they do not want it.” “We hope – said Msgr. Warduni – that the Iraqis themselves become aware of the value of unity and leave aside those who want evil and chaos. We want Iraq to govern itself by its own strengths, political, economic and military. But there are outside interests that seek to foment divisions. ”

A fragmentation that characterizes the Christian community, divided into factions and political parties. “We must set an example for others – the Iraqi bishops conclude – and take part in the reconstruction of the country in a sign of unity and respect.”

Sources for AsiaNews in Mosul, meanwhile, describe a situation of “tension and concern” on the streets. There are still “divisions between Sunnis and Kurds”, who do not want to” abandon entire areas of the territory under their control through the Peshmerga militia”. The Sunnis, winners of the last elections, are seeking to regain possession of the area and “the departure of American troops could exacerbate the tension.”

In Baghdad, an Iraqi journalist – who has asked to remain anonymous – tells AsiaNews that “the Iraqi troops are not ready to assume the responsibilities of national security.” The reasons, the source points out, are twofold: the army is lacking “both in terms of equipment”, and “psychological terms”, because “they have lost the motivation to lay down their lives in defence of the country. ”

Nationalism and the spirit of nationality is in sharp decline. The source puts forward the possibility of “an American plan”, according to which “the U.S. knows that the Iraqi army is not ready to take control of the nation, but have also decided to withdraw, to then later on confirm that the U.S. presence is essential for security. The United States intends to return at a later date, negotiating new agreements”. (DS)