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Iraq Catholic leaders urge unity after attacks on Shiites

Iraq's Catholic leaders have condemned the multiple attacks that left scores of worshippers dead and hundreds more wounded at Shiite Muslim holy sites in their country.

Several almost-simultaneous explosions hit Baghdad and Karbala on Tuesday at the height of the major Shiite feast of Ashura. Iraqi officials say the blasts killed 271 people. The US had earlier put the toll at 117.

Vatican nuncio to Iraq Archbishop Fernando Filoni said: "There is the danger that people on the extremist fringe who don't want reconciliation will look for every opportunity to trigger violence."

The attacks came one day after Iraq's governing council agreed on a draft constitution outlining the structure and nature of how Iraq could be governed after the regime of deposed President Saddam Hussein.

In Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly said the church is greatly saddened by the killings.

"We all live in the same Iraqi family: What happens to my Muslim brother also happens to me," he said.

Baghdad Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni said the attacks "were the work of people who have no consideration at all for the value of the human person."

"These attacks have no aim other than to trigger a war of hate between Iraqis, but I believe that all Iraqis have figured this out and that they will never fall into this trap," he said.

60% of Iraqis are Shiite Muslim while 37% are Sunni Muslim. The Shiites were oppressed under Saddam's regime for decades.

Archbishop Filoni said there was "great tension between the different expressions of Islam; between those who are more fundamentalist and closed and those who have a more flexible vision that is respectful of minorities."

According to the interim constitution, Islam will be Iraq's official religion, and it will be a formal source for legislation, but there will not be Islamic law, or Shariah. Freedom of religion is to be guaranteed under a bill of rights, and 25% of parliament is to be made up of women.

Catholic leaders in Iraq condemn attacks on Shiites, call for unity (Catholic News Service 3/3/04)

Iraqis mourn Shia massacre dead (BBC 3/3/04)
Attacks on Shiites "Inhuman," Says Patriarch (Zenit 3/3/04)
Catholics say Iraqi constitution favours Islam (CathNews 3/5/04)

5 Mar 2004