Iraq’s elections promise a better future for the country’s Christians whoever wins, according to a leading bishop who says most people are “tired of violence.”
Archbishop Louis Sako said the March 7th general elections and their aftermath had left him “very optimistic” of improved security and a bigger voice for minority groups, including Christians.
His comments come amid reports of the return of almost all the Christians who fled Mosul in the run-up to the vote.
In an interview on Monday, March 22nd, with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Archbishop of Kirkuk stressed that the situation for the country’s benighted Christians looked set to improve regardless of the outcome of the election, whose results are expected by the end of the month.
Speaking from Kirkuk, Archbishop Sako said, “The elections were carried out very well. During the campaign period, the political parties debated their programs in a very civilized way.”
The Archbishop said, “The last election in 2005 was much more sectarian. Now people have chosen more secular parties, not like last time. Whatever happens, it will be a good result. I am very optimistic about that.”
Noting the latest indications pointing to victory for former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, he added, “When Allawi was in power during the violence in Fallujah and Najaf [in 2004-5], he was decisive. He imposed the law and the army was able to help stabilize the security situation.”
“But even if [current Prime Minister Nouri] Malaki wins, it will be ok and things will change. People are tired of violence and they are determined to see an improvement.”
Underlining the involvement of candidates from diverse political and religious backgrounds, he said he was pleased that at least five Christians had been elected to parliament.
Amid signs that the wider Christian community shares Archbishop Sako’s optimism, the latest reports received by ACN state that the vast majority of Christians from Mosul have returned to the city despite the violence that left more than 30 faithful dead.
In the run-up to the elections, more than 3,500 Mosul Christians – up to half the city’s Christian population – fled, mostly to nearby villages in the Nineveh plains.
Archbishop Sako said Mosul’s Christians were determined to go back despite continuing tension and violence including the killing of 55-year-old Christian Sayah Yaqoub Adam, who the prelate knew well when he was parish priest in Mosul in the 1990s.
Senior Iraqi priest Fr. Bashar Warda told ACN that Nineveh church communities such as Our Lady of the Plants monastery, Alqosh, had said farewell to the last remaining Christians seeking sanctuary from Mosul.
But a number of returnees have indicated that in the long term they want to leave Mosul permanently and start new lives either in the far north of Iraq or abroad.
Fr. Warda said that Archbishop Amil Nona of Mosul is keen to go ahead as planned with the upcoming Holy Week and Easter liturgies, despite the closure of a number of churches in the city and continued security concerns.
He said, “Archbishop Amil has made it clear that working with the priests he is determined to continue the mission in Mosul.”
Meanwhile, Aid to the Church in Need is providing $33,900 for food packages for displaced and other poverty-stricken Christians in the extreme north of Iraq. The packages will be distributed by the Chaldean Sisters in Zakho, close to the border with Syria and Turkey.