In a candid interview with the Italian Catholic magazine "Mondo e Missione," Iraqi Bishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said that terrorists, financed by fundamentalist Muslims and some neighboring countries, are behind the attacks that prevent Iraq from becoming stable and democratic.
"There aren't any more (Iraqi) people linked to the dictator," Sako said in the interview. "What we have instead are Arab fighters who have entered Iraq, financed by fundamentalist movements in nearby countries, or maybe even by the governments. There are those who do not want Iraq to be open and free."
These groups do not have any popular support in Iraq, the bishop pointed out. "We are moderates by nature," said Sako of the Iraqi people. "The extremists who are operating are supported from outside. It is obvious that, if a democracy is born in Iraq, the surrounding countries will be worried." In particular, Sako mentioned Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Egypt.
The 55-year-old bishop, who was ordained Sept. 28, served as vice-president of a provisory provincial council in his hometown of Mosul, the first such council in Iraq, after the war. The Mosul model was later reproduced in Kirkuk and other provinces.
Until recently, he was a parish priest in Mosul and before that the rector of the seminary in Baghdad. He knows 12 languages, has studied in Rome and Paris, is
an expert in ancient Christian literature, and has a master's degree in Islamic history. His is a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The bishop pointed out the great influence of the Pope in taking a stand against the U.S. attack on Iraq and preventing the war from being interpreted as a war of
"The Muslims tried to paint the war as a crusade against Islam," said Sako. But thanks to the Vatican's position and the Pope's intervention "they quickly saw that the bombings touched everyone, including Christians, and they understood that the United States was intervening in Iraq for economic and political reasons, not religious ones," he said.
Many friendships formed among Muslims and Christians before and during the war in creating joint groups to defend the churches and mosques, he said. The aid the Catholic Church distributed during the war among Muslims was rightly understood as a witness of charity and not proselytism, he explained. "Some of the Muslims have welcomed our appeal for national unity," he added.
Sako described Iraq as a country emerging from a 35-year dictatorship, "during which the people were deprived of everything: of oil, but even of air to breathe." The two wars and the 12-year embargo caused many deaths and led many Iraqis to flee, yet the people are "satisfied with the change, with the renewed possibility for freedom," he said.
The bishop was clear in pointing out the signs of hope in war-torn Iraq: in just a few months, 80 new political parties have been formed, five of them are Christian; dozens of new publishers have arisen, six of them are Christian. Some Christian television stations were created in Mosul as well.
But he indicated the need for Western help at this time in Iraq's history, stressing the need to develop a democracy in Iraq "with Iraqi characteristics."
"The Christians have a great task, even though we are relatively few," he said. "But our strength is not in numbers; it is rather in our culture, values, openness, fraternity, and capacity for friendly criticism."
He appealed to Western Christians and religious congregations not to forget the Christians in Iraq after the war.
"There are 700,000 Christians in Iraq and, in a year, when the emphasis on Iraq is gone, who will remember them? It has already happened with the Gulf War and
the embargo," said Sako. "I make this appeal to all the religious congregations: come to Iraq to lend a hand, especially in education, and not only for the Christians. Here in Iraq, man himself must be reconstructed, and we can't do it alone. Iraq is rich in economic potential, but it also needs spiritual resources."