Remember Us, Says Bishop in Wake of Iraqi Elections

Chaldean Prelate Appeals for Christians’ Rights

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, FEB. 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A Chaldean bishop of Baghdad is optimistic in the wake of the Iraqi elections, though he is concerned about the rights of Christians.

“The elections have demonstrated the hope of Iraqis for a stable and democratic government, with a Constitution that guarantees the rights of all,” said Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni, when commenting on the official results of the Jan. 30 elections.

The United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite alliance backed by Shiite Muslim clergy and headed by Ayatollah Al Sistani, won 48% of the votes in the legislative elections, entitling them to 140 of the 275 seats in the provisional National Assembly.

The Shiites are followed by the Kurdish parties, with 25.7% of the votes (75 seats) and by outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s list, with 13.8% (40 seats).

The AsiaNews agency stressed that “most of the Sunnis, 20% of the Iraqi population, were unable to participate in the elections due to lack of security, and others refused to, calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops as a condition for the elections.”

Sunni participation was low in some areas, and it is feared that this exclusion “might cause a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Sunnis held power and Shiites were excluded,” AsiaNews observed.

Bishop Warduni, in a telephone interview with the Italian episcopate’s SIR agency, said: “Let’s not forget, when it comes to the results, that very many Sunnis did not participate in the voting and that in some Christian areas the ballot papers were not handed out and as a result the inhabitants were unable to exercise their right to vote.”

“Despite these negative points, we hope these results will bring good to Iraq, in the form of peace, freedom, security and law,” he said.

“As a Christian community, we request respect for our rights,” the Chaldean prelate added. “We claim our right to be treated not as second-class but as first-class citizens. We want to see respected our religious freedom, our right to educate according to our values, and any other right common to all other citizens.”

The Vatican agency Fides pointed out that there will be six Christian deputies in the National Parliament and an additional five in the Kurdish. They were chosen in the north of the country, and belong to four political parties; one is an independent.

Bishop Warduni also expressed his concern about the representation of Christians in the assembly. “The mistake of Christians was to run divided in the elections,” he told SIR.

The bishop also fears a “split in the country” because of the lack of Sunni votes and Sunnis’ exclusion from the assembly.

“I hope for much wisdom, patience, and magnanimity, especially on the part of those who won the elections,” he said. “Otherwise there will be difficulties. I hope for dialogue and reconciliation.”

For his part, Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk is confident that there will be Sunni participation in the new government, “because the Shiites and the Kurds cannot govern alone,” he told AsiaNews.

The archbishop added that “there will not be a civil war because it is not in the nature of Iraqis.” The crimes being committed daily in Iraq are not politically or religiously motivated but are carried out by common criminals, he said.

Archbishop Sako is certain that the Shariah, Islamic law, will not be adopted, because within the new political class the “secularists are too strong and will not accept that the religious law become the basis of the new Iraq.”

“Democracy in Iraq can work,” he said, “only if all political forces get together, if all groups participate, if religious tolerance is upheld.”

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