The overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was supposed to improve life for all who lived under his murderous yoke. In significant ways, it has.
But continued ethnic and factional fighting, coupled with unsteady steps toward democracy, have left the nation’s future in 2012 more hazy than some would like.
For Iraq’s religious community in particular, it is a time of uncertainly but also of hope.
The Catholic University of America law school community received a first-hand report on Feb. 2 when two leaders from Iraqi Kurdistan—an autonomous, self-governing region of Iraq since 1970—discussed “Religious Liberty in Iraqi Kurdistan” at the invitation of the law school’s Middle East Religious Dialogue Program.
“The future of Iraq at this time is confusing,” said His Excellency Rabban Al-Qas (left), the Chaldean Bishop of Amadiyah and Zakho in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The Eastern Catholic cleric noted that although the overt hostility to religion of the Hussein years is over, churches in the primarily Muslim nation remain empty.
During his visit to the United States, Bishop Rabban is raising awareness with American political and religious leaders that Christians and other religious minorities from around Iraq are fleeing to, and welcomed in, Iraqi Kurdistan.
The bishop heads a coeducational, interreligious international school that brings together Muslim, Christian, Yezidi and Turkman students to provide a base of human values and an introduction to human rights.
The message of Kurdistan as an oasis of religious tolerance and shared human values was echoed by Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, who has led the Kurdistan Regional Government’s foreign relations effort since 2006.
“As an oppressed people, we will never allow others to be oppressed in Kurdistan,” Bakir said.
Yet both leaders were adamant that while Kurdistan desires to remain a federal entity of Iraq as established by the new national constitution adopted in 2005, the future of that relationship depends on Iraq’s willingness to be governed by a constitution.
“We can only live in Iraq if it adheres to a Constitution,” said Bakir, who warned that prompting Christians to leave Iraq for political reasons would amount to a “diaspora.”