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Christians Under More Pressure in Postwar Iraq

Interview with Marie Angel Siebrecht of Aid to the Church in Need

SÃO PAULO, JULY 4, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Christians in postwar Iraq are feeling the pressure of Muslim fundamentalist groups, to the point that Christian women feel obliged to cover their faces with a veil.

In this interview with ZENIT while on a recent trip to Brazil, Marie Angel Siebrecht, who is responsible for assistance to the clergy on behalf of Aid to the Church in Need, shares her impressions about the reality of the country.

Q: What is the situation of Christians in Iraq?

Siebrecht: For months, thousands of Christian families have had no source of income. Many government offices, businesses and stores were destroyed. People have been left without work. This is true for both Muslims and Christians. The situation is very difficult for all. Chaos and anarchy reign in Iraq. It is urgently necessary to do everything possible to restore normal life.

The situation of Christians is particularly difficult in the south of the country. In Basra, for example, Christians are subjected to pressures from the Shiite Muslims. Shiites are the majority and they want power. It is something that can be seen while walking on the streets. Photographs of Saddam Hussein have been replaced by those of Shiite leaders.

Q: What is the effect of this Shiite pressure on the life of the Christian minority in Iraq?

Siebrecht: I myself saw how Christian women cover themselves from head to toe for their own safety when going out into the street, otherwise they might be attacked or suffer abuses. This is the reality in Basra. We didn’t see this in Baghdad or in the north, in Mosul. The situation is better there. The Shiites are stronger in the south and that is why they try to exert pressure.

Q: Are the fundamentalists’ demonstrations of force an attempt to impose a radical Islamism?

Siebrecht: It’s hard to say. None of the people with whom we spoke — nuncio, bishops, priests — could tell us what might happen. All hope that the present situation will not serve to strengthen Muslim fundamentalism. But no one can exclude this possibility, at least in the south.

Q: Is the phenomenon of Christian women covering their faces for fear of being attacked a symptom of the growth of Muslim fundamentalism fueled by the vacuum of power?

Siebrecht: We cannot say this. The occupying forces cannot be present in all places. At present, the main concern is not the security of Christians, but of everyone. In Baghdad also, students, especially young women, are afraid to return to the university, as no thought is given to whether they are Muslims or Christians. People don’t know what awaits them around the corner.

Q: What future awaits Christians?

Siebrecht: The few Christians who stayed in Iraq are tempted to leave the country. In a certain sense, they are being forced to emigrate. They feel they have no role to play in the new Iraq. There is talk of the Shiites, of Sunni Muslims, of Kurds, but no mention of Christians when thinking about the future. It is true that they are only a minority, but they have a right to be there, just like the rest.

Meanwhile, for the time being, people have the impression that everything is sinking. Attacks against U.S. forces are increasing. I fear that the situation in Iraq will be increasingly critical.

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