The 20th of March 2003 marked a day when the history of Iraq was rewritten. It was a day when a massive US-led attack was waged on Iraq and when the Middle East was shaken by an unprecedented war that reshuffled the cards in the region as well as shoved Iraq and its people into a dystopian future.
Marking the 20th anniversary of the launching what is termed as Operation Iraqi Freedom by US and British troops, His Beatitude Cardinal Louis Sako, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans gave an exclusive interview to asianews.it website. He sums up the situation in Iraq 20 years after that 20th of March 2003, as saying that "the country is still mired in the quicksand of the crisis, unable to resolve ills that have so far appeared incurable."
In this interview, he unveils facts about the 2003 war that unleashed the successive events while opening the door wide to terrorism, corruption, and institutional anarchy that Iraq has so far been suffering from.
In his bird's-eye analysis of the prevailing situation in Iraq, he says that "the US invasion in March 2003 turned Iraq upside down, later marked by instability and sectarian violence, characterized by fundamentalism and widespread corruption which are problems still largely unresolved today, although the situation has improved somewhat."
Stating that the operation which cost thousands of billions of euros and over 151,000 dead in the four-year period 2003-2006, he says, "The failure of the US military operation, justified in the UN with the never proven accusation of weapons of mass destruction has led Iraq into a fathomless abyss of a country that was once among the most prosperous and developed in the Middle East with distinguished schools and universities."
Reflecting on the massive exodus of Christian Iraqis he says that 20 years after that 20 March 2003, a climate of fear continues to reign, which fuelled the great hemorrhaging of the Christian population that was reduced from over one and a half million to about a third'.
Press reports also indicate that on March 12, 2023 Cardinal Sako paid a visit to newly named Minister of Defense Mohammad Sa'id Al-'Abbasi during which he shed light on the situation of Christians, especially in the towns of the Nineveh Plain and stressed the role of the central government in defending their rights, establishing rules of mutual respect and national partnership, and preventing abuses against them by any party, especially with regards to what contributes to the process of demographic change.
Stressing that the Christians are not a commodity to be sold to any party, he said: "Christians are loyal Iraqi citizens, and the government should take care of them and protect them properly in their areas, through governmental institutions such as the ministries of defense and interior." He added, "Christians are worried and afraid of the future, as they are seriously considering emigration."
During the Continental Synodal Assembly of the Catholic Churches of the Middle East which convened its sessions on February 13-17, 2023 in Beit 'Anya, Harissa, Lebanon, Patriarch Sako shed light on the Christians of the East referring to them as a perpetual people who made history at a time when they are" a treasure that needs to be preserved."
He said, "We are the indigenous people of Earth. We have been here before the emergence of divine Christianity and we stayed there for 2,000 years." Stressing that in the modern time the Christians spared no effort in contributing to construction and creativity, he noted that they used to transform feelings of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty about the future due to wars and conflicts into prayer because they believed that history is divinely ordained, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 57: 1)
He earlier decried the prevailing situation of the Christian Iraqis, stating that "the main reason for the continued emigration of thousands of Christian families from Nineveh Plain and other areas in northern Iraq is attributed to the hegemony experienced by armed groups and the fact this area in bereft of reconstruction.
In this regard, on March 14, 2023, Pope Francis addressed spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in which he recalled their fruitful meeting two years ago during the papal visit to Iraq which he termed as “a milestone on the path of interreligious dialogue and understanding between peoples.” He also encouraged him to promote fraternity among believers as a concrete response to today's challenges.
Furthermore, the Pope underlined the duty of religious leaders, “to encourage those with responsibilities in civil society to work to affirm a culture based on justice and peace, promoting political actions that protect the fundamental rights of every person.”
In his letter, the Pope drafted the panacea for all of Iraq's ills by asserting the need to instill justice and peace, while protecting the fundamental rights of every person.
The remarks made by His Holiness Pope Francis and Cardinal Sako relevant to the prevailing situation is Iraq should prompt the Iraqi leadership to hastily undertake a practical strategy that maintains peace, justice, and equality so as to turn Iraq's dystopian future into a bright one.
It is dolorous to note that the hemorrhaging of Christians from the Middle East, particularly from Iraq caused by wars and persecution, is proceeding at a high rate. Based on the explicit views expressed by the Pope and Cordial Sako, it is due time by the Iraqi authorities to thoroughly review the living conditions on the Christian Iraqis by taking concrete actions that preserve their rights on the bases of equality with others in such a way that ensures them hope for a better life and a promising future.