Remember religion’s role in Iraq

By The Rev’d Canon Dr. Andrew P B White
The withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq is a significant event for the religious communities and those, who like me, serve those communities in Iraq. Even as U.S. troops leave, it is important to know that violence here is on the increase. We are in the midst of war. As I write this, I hear rockets blasting and my people are afraid. By my people I mean Iraqi Christians, but I am involved with all religious groups here: the majority Shia, the smaller Sunni Muslims and all the minority groups.
The minority religious communities here have very little faith in the Iraqi forces; many are actually scared of them. They say “at least with the Americans we could trust them; with the Iraqis we can’t.” That is a common response among many of the Christians as well. For the small number of Jews in our midst, the situation is even more horrifying. We only have eight Jews left here and one came to me this morning terrified by life now. Her ID badge identifies her as being Jewish. While the Jewish tradition on this land dates back 3,000 years, Jews here are greeted with only suspicion. Every time they are stopped at a checkpoint, they are accused of being a spy; they face abuse and live in fear.
Other minorities also live in fear. Iraq’s secular past came at the cost of its evil dictatorship. While it is good that those days are gone, the religion that has taken its place offers little improvement. things are not as bad as for the Jews but they still live in fear. Whilst in its past Iraq may have appeared very secular it was only that because of its evil dictatorship.
There have been moments of hope. When Gen. David Petreaus was here things started to improve. I worked closely with him on the work with the religious leaders. We formed the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq. I directed this group, we met regularly. We produced the first ever Shia and Sunni Fatwa (Islamic Injunction) against violence and saw enemies become friends. Violence decreased, but then support for all this worked ceased.
As the combat mission of the United States ends, we are eternally grateful for all the U.S. forces have done, for their blood shed. But we also beg the United States not to forget religion and its role in this troubled land. That which can be the most wonderful can also be the most awful.
The Rev’d Canon Dr. Andrew P B White
Anglican Chaplain to Iraq
President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East