Iraqi Prelate Tells of the Good Going On

«The Press Has Been Backward-looking,» Says Chaldean Bishop

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ROME, JULY 19, 2004 ( Iraq can now lay the foundations for the country’s reconstruction, says Chaldean Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiyah.

On a visit to Italy in search of aid to help rebuild Iraq, the prelate pointed to the International School in his diocese as a sign of the country’s resurgence.

It is the first English-speaking school to be opened after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It is being built with a capacity for 500 students, «Christians and Muslims, Yazidis and Arabs» and designed «to offer student housing to young people from the neighboring villages,» he explained.

«Our school is an attempt to invigorate scientific education, surmounting the obstacles and controls of Saddam’s old regime,» the prelate added. «This is also the new Iraq. Our goal is to provide free education to all, placing our hopes in God’s hands and those of people of good will.»

In an interview with AsiaNews, the bishop said that «since June 28 our situation has changed. We have a new government under the auspices of the U.N. I disagree with those who think the ‘occupation is over.'»

«I believe that what the Americans did was truly a liberation, the liberation of Iraq. And on this basis the new Iraq shall emerge,» the bishop continued.

«The Western press has been unjust toward Iraq. It has focused only on the dark side, on terrorism, killings, car bombs, the cruel images of decapitation,» he explained.

«Some went as far as saying violence was justified because it was aimed at the occupiers,» the Chaldean bishop said. «Unfortunately, ordinary people are the ones who paid a high price, Muslims and Christians working for the Americans or finding themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time when some car explodes.»

For Bishop Al-Qas, opposition «should mean defending the rights of the people, not killing them. If you strike and kill fellow countrymen and women, you are not a resistance fighter; you are a destroyer, a bearer of death.»

«The press has been backward-looking, focusing on the negative side of the situation, never talking about the positive things the former Provisional Council did and the present interim government is doing,» he said.

«No one showed that, despite the political upheaval, the uncertainties and lack of security, schools reopened» and «the normal academic year ended as one would expect,» he added.

Bishop Al-Qas continued: «Under Saddam there was only poverty. Now the economy is slowly reviving thanks to what the government and the Americans are doing. New building sites are opening, new construction is going on. All this is going on in spite of terrorist attacks. How many people paid in blood their commitment to rebuild Iraq? Italians, Japanese, French, Americans, Koreans.»

«No one talks about power plants restarting, oil wells reopening, agricultural programs being launched, roads being rebuilt» not to mention the «150 daily newspapers in the country» and the demonstrations which were banned under Saddam, he said.

«Western Europe and pacifists have been blinded to what is going on in our country,» the prelate said.

In fact, «something new is sprouting here, a democracy, young, but real, and in need of help,» he said. «Now there is no excuse not to help us. Before it could be argued that everything was under U.S. control. Now there is a U.N. resolution and power is in the hands of the Iraqi government.»

Still, the «international community must work with us in a concerted way to broaden our political and commercial ties,» he stressed.

Asked about the situation of the Church in the new Iraq, the bishop said: «We Christians want to live as full citizens in a secular Iraq. For this reason we are in favor of Iraq’s new Constitution. The Shiites back us.»

The «overwhelming majority of Shiites, including the grand mullahs of Iraq, do not want an Iranian-style government,» he said. «Only one Shiite in four wants an ayatollah-dominated state, one governed by the clergy.»

In the present context, the «Church must be forthright and unambiguous,» Bishop Al-Qas said. «She must be pro-active and judge things as they happen. As Christians, we are not second-class citizens; we are part and parcel of the nation. Today we must live as Iraqis, work with the government, and work in freedom.»

«Under Saddam there were laws that treated Christian unjustly. Yet we were silent, sorry for ourselves and our minority condition,» he recalled. «For example, although children born to a Christian mother were automatically considered Muslim, we said nothing. When our schools were confiscated, we just put up with it and taught in churches. It is high time to call what is bad, bad, and what is good, good.»

He concluded: «It is most urgent that we bear witness, not only in words, but also in deeds, by living our Christian identity and expressing our Christian values.»

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