Iraq: Iraqi bishop’s upbeat response to Iraqi election result

iraq_bishop_andreas_abouna1.jpgPosted by Press release

ACN News, – IRAQ

Is this the long-awaited breakthrough?

Iraqi bishop’s upbeat response to Iraqi election result

By John Pontifex

DISASTER for hard-line religious parties in Iraq’s local elections may prompt exiled Christians to start returning home according to a senior bishop who said the results could help put the country “back on track”.
For Iraq’s dwindling Christian community – now down to barely 300,000 – the 31st January poll in 10 of the country’s 14 provinces, could yet be seen as a turning point in the survival of a faith group which barely 20 years ago numbered 1.4 million.
Preliminary results late last week showed huge gains for Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki’s party, news which Bishop Andreas Abouna said “delighted” the Christians forced to flee the sectarianism and violence of the post-Saddam era.
Speaking today (Monday) (9th February) from Baghdad in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Abouna said: “It is a very good result – especially at this stage in the country’s development. It will help put Iraq back on track.”
Stressing the largely peaceful conduct of the elections and their aftermath, he said: “This will make [Christians] think differently and may encourage them to start returning.”
Bishop Abouna, who is auxiliary bishop of Baghdad for the Chaldeans, emphasised that secular governments are likely to do far more than religious parties to uphold minority rights – a view widely shared by Christians.
He continued: “I am sure that as the news spreads, Christians will be delighted – especially as a more secular government will favour minority religious groups.”
With 90 percent of votes counted by last Thursday (5th February), Islamic religious parties had suffered huge losses but there was victory for Mr Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party in the capital, Baghdad, and Basra in the far south-east.
The results are a major blow to Iraq’s largest Shiite religious party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, and although Mr Maliki and his political bloc the State of Law, have strong religious leanings, they have pursued a non-sectarian agenda.
Bishop Abouna underlined Iraq’s security failures during the years when government and politics were dominated by Sunni and Shiite hardliners including the firebrand cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.
The bishop said: “Everyone agrees that during the last five years when religious parties have been strong nothing happened.”
He added: “Iraqis have realised that the best way to help the country is by keeping religion and politics separate.”
Alongside other senior clergy, Bishop Abouna has consistently opposed the emergence of a religious, theocratic system in Iraq.
In 2005, both Bishop Abouna and Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk asked Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster to lobby the British government, arguing that Iraq’s draft constitution looked set to authorise Islamic Shari‘a law “through the back door”. Their appeal for a change in the wording of the constitution failed.
Official results of the 31st January provincial elections are not due until the end of the month because of the complex voting rules on the allocation of seats.

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(Bishop Andreas Abouna of Baghdad)