Church leaders have expressed anxiety over a Kurdish vote for independence in a recent referendum, saying Kurdistan’s decision to split from Iraq could prompt more conflict and uncertainty in a region that has already faced immeasurable suffering in recent years.
Despite signs of hope in Iraq, “there is still much of uncertainty and danger that threatens the region,” Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said at an international conference Sept. 28.
Tension has been building in Iraq this week, as the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, voted on Monday to separate from Iraq. The vote will initiate a process of negotiation between Iraq and Kurdistan, which Kurdish leaders say will lead to the region’s independence.
The Sept. 25 referendum has been opposed by the central government in Baghdad – calling it illegal – as well as by neighboring countries, such as Turkey and Iran. But in a poll Sept. 25, Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of the separation from Iraq.
“The referendum of Kurdistan, toward independence from Baghdad, is creating an escalation of tension between the two governments and we can almost hear the beats of war drums,” Sako said.
Speaking in Rome at an international conference hosted by the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Sako said that the referendum has given rise to new fears for Christians in Iraq.
“Today, our people are living with fear of being engaged in another war, which means more chaos, more bloodshed, destruction and refugees,” he said.
“They are concerned about stability, security and worried about going back to live with daily crimes of robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of Christians that has become so common.”
Patriarch Sako said that if the confrontation leads to violence between the two sides, Christians and minorities, whose full rights are not acknowledged by either government, will be caught in the crossfire.
This will “certainly result in another exodus of Christians from their homeland,” he said.
“We must clarify: if there will be a new military conflict in Iraq, the consequences will be a disaster for everyone, Christians and minorities will once again pay the highest price.”
The displacement and migration of Christians has a hugely negative impact on the country and this is the main concern, he said. Christians vanishing from Iraq is an “irreplaceable” loss.
SOURCE: CNA/EWTN News