Kirkuk Archbishop fears for future of Iraq Christianity

Christianity in Iraq teeters on the brink of extinction amid new fears that the proposed constitution could deny religious minorities their rights, according to Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk.

Aid to the Church in Need reports that Archbishop Sako said that if the country's draft permanent constitution fails to protect civil liberties for religious minorities, it could spark a mass exodus of Christians.

The remarks came after fierce debate over whether the constitution should acknowledge Sharia as the 'sole source' of law in Iraq.

In his interview with the charity's media office, Archbishop Sako said that if the constitution embraced Islamic Sharia law, his faithful risked losing their freedom.

He said: "We are very worried. If there is nothing that assures Christians of their rights, they will leave for other countries."

"We are asking people to stay in this country but the problem is that we cannot give them a vision for the future. None of us knows what the future will hold."

The archbishop's comments came as Iraqi leaders yet again postponed a vote on the constitution, the key step before the document is submitted to parliament.

As tensions mount amid continued wrangling over the constitution, Archbishop Sako said Christians were finding it very difficult to make their voices heard.

The problem is made virtually intractable as Christians represent well below one million in a country with a total population of 24 million - more than 90 percent of whom are Muslim.

"What will our rights be?" asked Archbishop Sako. "The Christians were here long before the coming of Islam and the Arabs. We are an indigenous population - we are not foreign or strange. Where is the democracy that we all longed for?"

A constitution acknowledging the primacy of Sharia would, he said, make it very difficult to be a Christian. They would, he said, suffer everything from pressure for Christian women to wear the hijab veil through to severe restrictions on building or repairing churches. Christians would have little protection in law, with prejudice weighted firmly in favour of Muslims.

The archbishop - a member of Iraq's largest Christian denomination, the Chaldeans - went on to underline his concerns about the proposed federalisation of Iraq, especially the plans for Shiite Muslims to take control of the south, including the capital, Baghdad, which has the largest number of Iraqi Christians.

Iraq - Constitution crisis for Christians (Aid to the Church in Need 24/8/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Aid to the Church in Need
Iraqi Transitional Government
Test of the draft Iraqi Constitution (Associated Press/The Wichita Eagle 24/8/05)

Pope concern for Iraqi Christians after two terror attacks (CathNews 9/12/04)
Catholics rebuild churches in Iraq despite ongoing violence (CathNews 26/11/04)
Iraqi Christians look ahead to uncertain future (CathNews 15/4/03)
Iraqi Christians consecrate country to Mary Queen of Peace (CathNews 24/3/03)

An Islamic Republic of Iraq? (BBC 23/8/05)
'Progress' on Iraq constitution (BBC 14/8/05)
Sunni support crucial for Iraqi constitution (catholicireland.net 24/8/05)
Letter from Mother Teresa orphanage in Baghdad (Independent Catholic News 10/8/05)
Baghdad Catholic youth celebrate WYD in Iraq capital, salute Pope and pilgrims in Cologne (Catholic News Agency 20/8/05)
Two young Iraqi men stranded in Jordan on their way to Cologne (AsiaNews.it 12/8/05)
Salvadoran archbishop opposes sending additional troops to Iraq (The Universe 5/8/05)
The Church in Iraq does not give in to terrorism (AsiaNews.it 1/8/05)

25 Aug 2005