Iraqi Christians Fear Islamic Law Will Dominate

Archbishop of Kirkuk Says Many Could Leave

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, AUG. 26, 2005 ( A draft version of the Iraqi Constitution leaves Christians fearing that their religious freedoms might not be protected, says the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk.

Archbishop Louis Sako said that if the constitution fails to provide civil liberties for religious minorities, it could spark a mass exodus of Christians, reported the group Aid to the Church in Need.

The archbishop’s remarks came after fierce debate over whether the country’s constitution should acknowledge Shariah, Islamic law, as the «sole source» of law in Iraq.

The first draft of the constitution’s text establishes that Islam is the official religion of the state, and is the basic source for legislation.

Archbishop Sako added that if the constitution embraced Shariah, Christians risk losing their freedom, and would make it difficult for them to practice their faith.

Christians would suffer everything from pressure for their women to wear the veil, to severe restrictions on building or repairing churches. They would have little protection in law, with prejudice weighted firmly in favor of Muslims, he explained.

Worried minority

«We are very worried. If there is nothing that assures Christians of their rights, they will leave for other countries,» said the archbishop.

«We are asking people to stay in this country, but the problem is that we cannot give them a vision for the future. No one knows what the future will hold,» he said.

As tensions mount amid continued wrangling over the constitution, Archbishop Sako said Christians are finding it very difficult to make their voices heard. More than 90% of Iraq is Muslim.

«The Christians were here long before the coming of Islam and the Arabs,» he noted. «We are an indigenous population, we are not foreign or strange.»

«Where is the democracy that we all longed for? What will our rights be?» he asked.

The archbishop underlined his concerns about the proposed federalization 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.

Outside help

Highlighting the Shiites’ hard-line approach to minorities, he added: «Many Christians are leaving Baghdad and moving north or to other countries. We just do not know what the future will be for Iraqi Christians there. All we can do is hope and pray that things will improve.»

Archbishop Sako’s remarks come more than a month after Bishop Andraos Abouna, the Chaldean auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, and the leaders of 10 other Christian denominations, signed a joint letter calling for the Iraqi Constitution to recognize the rights of religious minorities.

The letter, which was presented to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the archbishop of Westminster, called on Iraqi leaders to scrap the proposed reference to Shariah as key to the constitution.

Benedict XVI met with Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, on Thursday to request that the draft constitution, which is being debated, respect religious freedom.

Once the constitution is agreed on by negotiators representing the country’s major religious groups, the draft will go before Parliament. Once approved by the Parliament, it will go before the people in a referendum.

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