Baghdad -- Iraqi leaders and the powers-that-be must "put their political differences aside, and be the voice of moderation, national sovereignty and tolerance," writes Patriarch Card Louis Raphael Sako in a message on "minorities and migrations" sent to AsiaNews.
In his note, the head of the Chaldean Church calls on the country's religious and political leaders to eliminate the root causes of its problems, especially those that lead to divisions, such as "religious extremism that uses violence."
Looking at the spiral of violence that began with the US invasion in 2003 until the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group, Card Sako calls the offences committed in the name of God and religion "mortal sins".
To do the right thing, the Iraqi government must seriously undertake "fundamental reforms, including: the application of the law with no fear or favouritism; disarming militias; providing security and stability; [and] combating extremism, discrimination, terrorism and corruption".
Iraq's constitution must guarantee respect for "peaceful" coexistence in light of the country's "diversity", adopting policies that promote the values of citizenship and the common good.
The country's charter should be inspired by "the principles of freedom, dignity, democracy, social justice and the relationship among all Iraqi citizens regardless of their religious, cultural and ethnic affiliations". It must also "promote coexistence with Muslims."
However, principles and good intentions often clash with reality, one in which minorities are marginalised and discriminated, Christians included, as the cardinal suggests by citing a couple of examples.
One case involves Maryam Maher, "a young Christian graduate with high grades", who was "listed by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (HESR) among the outstanding college graduates for the academic year 2016-2017, with a recommendation to be appointed," which "the implementing agency ignored because she is Christian".
Another example refers to "an official letter from the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Dr. Mahdi Mohsen Al-Alak, on 27 January 2019," calling for replacement "of the current head of Hamdanyia University with a more able professor, a Christian, a decision that was not implemented". Here too, religion played a role.
These are two examples among many, but they are symptomatic of the country's "institutional weakness", of the chaos that prevails when it comes to "justice and equality", as well as of the interplay of personal interests at the expense of "integrity and principles".
Historically, Christians have played a leading role in Iraq's social, economic and cultural development, not to mention in education, public administration and social services.
The country's diversity constitutes "a beautiful mosaic of ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic and traditional components". However, rise of the Islamic State in recent years and the violence it perpetrated -- the worst since the Armenian, Assyrian and Chaldean massacres of the First World War -- have reduced the Christian population to a paltry 2 per cent through emigration.
"Iraqi laws ought to provide good conditions that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities full citizenship and freedom to explicitly practise their faith and preserve their heritage (archaeological and historical) as an integral part of Iraqi civilisation, thus enabling them to continue to live with dignity."
Lastly, the cardinal notes that, unlike Muslims, Christians and other minorities do not have their own "special courts" and often have to abide by the decisions of Islamic courts in "spiritual and religious matters, such as marriage, inheritance, etc." In light of this, "We may wonder why we don't apply civil law to all Iraqis."