Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman of Baghdad, who leads Latin-rite Catholics of Baghdad, said in an interview with the Zenit news service that the real actors in the current conflict in Iraq are the world's big oil companies. He said, "...the invasion of the Islamic State [Isis] cut the country into pieces and spread general panic, with killings, destruction, ethnic-confessional cleansing, and the imposition of the Sharia. However, this at times apocalyptic picture of the events in Iraq does not obscure the real actors, namely, the governments with influence in the Middle East area and big oil and gas companies."
The archbishop said that the persecution of Christians continues in the area of Mosul, where an Orthodox cathedral and a Catholic monastery were seized by the Islamic State after Christians were forced to leave when they faced the choise of conversion to Islam or death.
ZENIT: Could you describe that actual situation taking place in Iraq and Mosul?
Archbishop Sleiman: It’s not easy to describe the situation in Iraq today. In the first place, we see a conflict between the government and the rebels, experienced as a war between Sunnis and Shi’ites, with tension between the Kurds and the Arabs. In any case, the invasion of the Islamic State [Isis] cut the country into pieces and spread general panic, with killings, destruction, ethnic-confessional cleansing, and the imposition of the Sharia. However, this at times apocalyptic picture of the events in Iraq does not obscure the real actors, namely, the governments with influence in the Middle East area and big oil and gas companies.
ZENIT: Please describe the current state of the Christian community there. What are the Christian community’s needs?
Archbishop Sleiman: Basically, the situation of Christians hasn’t changed. A part of it that increases tragically now lives in the Green Zone, that is, in Kurdistan and the agglomerations of the Nineveh Plain that head them. A part that has been reduced to a minimum lives in the Red Zone where there still is, as there was in the past, real persecution. Mosul, under the domain of the Islamic State, has uprooted the centuries-old Christian presence.
A third group of Christians live in the Grey Zone, primarily in Baghdad and the South. Grey because they live in an atmosphere of evident psychological and socio-political pressure. And there is still the panic that envelops everything and everyone, increasing the rate of the migratory movement, which for years has become an exodus.
Their needs: respect of their right to live in peace in their millennial homeland.
ZENIT: According to you, what must be done by the Church, government, organizations, etc.?
Archbishop Sleiman: The Church tries to alleviate the suffering with aid to evacuees but also appealing to the Government as well as the international authorities for protection of the rights of the people. Certain organizations help as well. The Government doesn’t control the situation. Left is an urgent and insistent diplomatic action with the great actors that guide events by remote control. Let’s not forget that the control of energy remains the principal goal.
ZENIT: In the appeal that Chaldean Patriarch Sako launched, he said Iraq is heading toward “a humanitarian, cultural, and historical disaster.” Could you, very briefly, explain if you agree and if so how – humanitarian, culturally and historically?
Archbishop Sleiman: The Chaldean Patriarch’s appeal is the heartfelt cry of a very grave and dangerous situation. The problem of Christians reveals the tragedy into which Iraq was pushed in 2003: the systematic and crude instrumentalization of religion, the reawakening of tribalism, the stimulation of ethnicity, the whole flavored with corruption, to the detriment of citizenship and hence of unity of the whole, and of sovereignty. The dictatorship of theocratic groups surpasses by far those that Iraq has suffered in the past.
ZENIT: Do you have any other further reflections to add?
Archbishop Sleiman: I would like to add this: When a fire flares up, it is circumscribed immediately to control it, otherwise it can spread. For years I have felt that the powers often start the fire in the Middle East. It’s not said that they will always be able to control it. Therefore, the fire that flares up in the region can hit Europe and cause a World War. Of course, it’s legitimate that states pursue the interests of their countries. However, my prayer is that reasons of state not sacrifice the life of peoples, their goods and their future.