The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon has encouraged Iraqi Muslims to confront violent extremists, stressing the need to return to peaceful coexistence despite present threats in the country.

"At this point, there is no other future for us than living together in peace, harmony and cooperation," he said in a Jan. 17 talk delivered to the Iraqi Center for Diversity Management.

Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako has witnessed the emigration of around 1 million Iraqi Christians in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion. The withdrawal of U.S. forces and the rise of the Islamic State has further endangered the future of Christians in Iraq, while the Iraqi government struggles to regain control.

The patriarch stressed that Iraq's different religions and ethnicities are rooted in the country, and are not foreign. Many groups which are now seen as minorities were once majorities and contributed greatly both to Iraqi and Islamic culture, he said.

"These communities are today marginalized, and have been dealt with harshly and in a brutal way," he lamented.

"This happened in many cities of Iraq, and finally in Mosul and the towns of the Nineveh Plain. No more Christians are actually there, not a single one. All this led them to seek emigration."

"Traditionally and historically, we have side by side with respect; we shared bread and salt, sweet and bitter, but today we wonder why this immoral and uncivilized phenomenon is happening?"

The patriarch said the more than 1 billion Muslims in the world are not responsible for extremist thought and action.

He said religious extremism and terrorism are serious forces for evil, but are not the only major threats. He especially faulted the mindset of the "takfiri," the Muslim sects that groundlessly declare other Muslims and non-Muslims to be apostates.

He also cautioned that these mindsets are "well exploited by some of the competing forces of power under the cover of religion."

Patriarch Sako called on Muslims to "take the initiative and lead a campaign of rejecting any sectarian discrimination."

"It is of utmost importance that religious authorities and political leaders address the culture of hatred and all forms of violence that destroy human life and violate human dignity. It is a difficult task indeed!" he said.

"But it is not impossible if everyone cooperates in the promotion of a culture of peace and confidence. Everyone would overcome the fear of convergence and build bridges between citizens."

The patriarch suggested a "joint Islamic project" to dismantle violent ideologies. He praised the strengthening of "an open and enlightened Islamic opinion" through the "appropriate interpretation" of religious texts. This approach would be "closing the door to those who are influencing the mentality of young people to use violence in the name of religion."

He urged speech that builds up "humanitarian, national and spiritual solidarity among all human beings as children of the same homeland and humankind." He endorsed the promotion of "a civilized culture of acceptance" that rejects "the eradication of others."

"However, it is necessary to acknowledge that this process will take time and will require healing the memory," he said.

Patriarch Sako also urged media networks to provide information that respects religions.

"Media networks must not harm religious symbols and thus insult the religious followers. Let us all promote an open culture that dispels prejudices and strengthens confidence and brilliancy."