VATICAN CITY — Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Iraq has written a letter urging Iraqi government officials to “waste no more time” in electing new leaders, and he lamented the grim possibility of finding a peaceful solution to conflict.
“Only the president of the parliament was elected; and later, maybe next week, there will be an election for the president of the republic and also the prime minister,” Patriarch Sako told CNA July 16, following the July 15 election of Salim al-Jubouri as the new speaker of Iraq’s parliament.
“But you know many cities are not controlled by the government. It’s really chaos.”
Salim al-Jubouri’s election marks the end of a three-month deadlock in Iraqi elections, which have remained drawn out in the wake of the attacks waged by militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). ISIS now styles itself as the “Islamic State” and has carved out a sizeable amount of territory in northwestern Iraq in addition to its territorial holdings in eastern Syria.
“There is a political solution” to the violence, Patriarch Sako affirmed, stating that “if they wanted to form a government of national unity, they can”; however, “it’s difficult.”
“The jihadists, the extremists, are controlling several of the capital cities, so the government should have a professional army … to put them away, to change them,” he continued.
Members of ISIS, a militant group that has been fighting to establish a new Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, overtook the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, and the city of Tikrit, 95 miles north of Baghdad, on June 10.
The group had seized portions of Ramadi and Falluja earlier; Tal Afar was seized by ISIS June 16; and the group briefly held parts of Baquba, 37 miles outside of Baghdad, the following day.
ISIS currently controls much of the Sunni areas of northern and western Iraq, as well as cities along the Euphrates River in northwest Syria.
In his July 16 letter to members of the Iraqi parliament, the patriarch joined his voice to “the honorable Shiites and Sunnites” in “begging” officials “to accelerate the elections of the three presidencies to save the country.”
Referring to the elections as a “national, historical and moral responsibility,” he encouraged parliament to “start in presenting some ‘giving ups’ and work hard to elect the three presidencies very quickly, because the lives of the Iraqis, and the unity of Iraq, are in danger.”
A Fragile Future
“The future is very fragile, is very critical,” the patriarch told CNA, “and in some cities, Christians are very few. For instance, in Mosul, they left the city; there are only about 200 people ... and, now, really, immigration is going on.”
“The situation is not stable, the future is unknown, and everyone is waiting: not only Christians, but also Muslims.”
According to U.N. figures, acts of violence and terrorism have killed at least 2,400 Iraqis and 1,500 civilians in June alone. The violence has also driven more than 1 million people from their homes.
Kurdish forces have separately moved into cities like Kirkuk and other areas abandoned by the Iraqi Army. BBC news reported Monday that a political rift has opened between Iraq’s Kurdish leaders and others in the government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“So Christians are a minority, and they want a solution, but where is it?” Patriarch Sako said.
“In Iraq, it’s a little bit difficult,” the patriarch noted. “Really, for the moment, I am not feeling that” a peaceful solution is possible, because “the culture is a little bit different.”
In his letter to parliament, Patriarch Sako encouraged officials to pray together at the beginning of their next meeting that God will help them to “use the dialogue between us and that we may understand each other to resolve the misunderstanding between us, far from restriction and sectarianism.
“God help us to spread the peace and tranquility between our people, so that Iraq may come out from its problem victorious. Amen.”