Iraqi Bishops plea for peace across Middle East

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by Ellen Teague , James Roberts
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil Bashar Warda in 2017
Photo: Alexander Heinl/DPA/PA Images
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk in Iraq said the majority of Iraqis wanted foreign troops to stop using their shattered homeland as a battlefield.

He was speaking as Iraq, Iran and the wider region remained tense following the targeted killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander, General Qassem Soleimani, on the orders of US President Donald Trump, at Baghdad airport on 3 January. 

“We are fed up with all kinds of troubles and war,”said Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis. “These have completely destroyed our country. We would like to see the US and Iran stop their war of words as well as missiles, and dialogue instead.” 

Meanwhile Iranians staged protests on Monday for the third straight day after Iran’s military admitted it shot down a Ukrainian airliner it said it mistook for a hostile aircraft. All 176 people on board were killed. Videos from Sunday night showed demonstrators fleeing from tear gas, and people were filmed in at least two locations tearing down posters of Soleimani. 

His death had prompted Tehran to fire more than a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi military bases hosting US troops on Wednesday. In the hours after those attacks, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with a surface-to-air missile, a move it blamed on “human error”. Listed among the dead were 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, including the crew. 

On Saturday night at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, people gathered at a vigil for the victims. The university said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed when the plane was shot down, and a video from the university showed chanting against the cleric-led government.

Iraq’s Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil also urged the international community to help defuse current tensions and use “peace and civilised dialogue” to find solutions to the crisis. “Iraq has been suffering from proxy wars for decades, tearing our country apart,” said Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda. “The current tensions [between the US and Iran] must not escalate in Iraq”. 

On 9 January Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle urged prayers for peace as the Philippines government ordered around 2,000 Filipino workers to leave Iraq, and Lebanon’s Maronite bishops lobbied Lebanese politicians not to drag the country into the conflict. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organisation is a powerful force in Lebanon.

Russia was quick to denounce “risky and dangerous” US policy in the region and on 7 January President Vladimir Putin paid a surprise visit to Syria. He and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad visited the Greek Orthodox cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Damascus, along with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All East John X Yazigi. 

On 8 January the president of the US bishops’ conference, Archbishop Jose Gomez, called for a de-escalation of tensions with Iran, urging US Catholics to “pray urgently that our world’s leaders will pursue dialogue and seek peace”. Gomez’s statement came three days after Pope Francis had called for a de-escalation and recommitment to peace in the region during his Sunday Angelus address.