iraq, vatican: Hopes for ‘dialogue and cooperation among all ethnic and religious groups’

They discussed the situation of “many refugees inside and outside the country who need help, in particular with regards to their return”, said the statement.
The two men also issued a renewed condemnation of the continuing violence in Iraq, where Christian communities “strongly feel the need for greater security”, it added.

The Vatican hoped “that Iraq can find a path to peace and development through dialogue and cooperation with all ethnic and religious groups, including minorities in respect of their respective identities”.

Maliki, who met his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi, also invited the pope to visit Iraq.
In March, the body of Iraq’s kidnapped Chaldaean Catholic archbishop, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was found near the northern city of Mosul, prompting warnings of a mass exodus of Christians from Iraq.
Iraq’s Christians, with the Chaldaean rite by far the largest community, were said to number as many as 800,000 before the US invasion. The number today is believed to have dropped to half that figure due to massive emigration.
Christians, like Sunnites and Shiites, have often been the victims of violence at the hands of religious extremists as well as criminal gangs.
On January 6, a series of bombs exploded outside churches and a monastery in Mosul, in an apparently coordinated attack that wounded four people and damaged buildings, as Christians celebrated Epiphany.
In a related development, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, warned that Christians across the Middle East are being associated with the “global project” of the United States and Britain in the region and are suffering as a result.
The archbishop, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, told a conference in London last April that indigenous Christian communities in the Middle East were being perceived as “foreign and aggressive” because of British and American military involvement in the region.
“Indigenous Christian communities throughout the region have suffered from being associated with the American global project, and indeed the British global project as part of the American global project”, he said.
Citing his experiences from a recent visit to Syria, he added: “The military policies of the West in the last few years have firmly cemented in a great deal of the Middle East the notion that Christianity is a foreign, aggressive and Western presence”.
He said that people he had spoken to in the region had confirmed “the appalling pressure” on Christian groups in the Middle East.
“I regret it is a real tragedy that this ongoing crisis has yet to be the focus of policy declarations, or indeed recognized by some of our Western governments