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Iraq’s Message to Pope: State Legitimacy Alone Defends Minorities

Iraq’s Message to Pope: State Legitimacy Alone Defends Minorities

Tuesday, 16 March, 2021 - 18:30

Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq was, no doubt, historic; but the outcome is what matters most. It is, despite the fact, about the visit by the head of the world’s largest Christian church to the land of one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Indeed, it is the birthplace of Abraham, the father of the three monotheistic religions, the cradle of oriental Christianity, one of the two places where the Old Testament was written, and home to the oldest and most glorious Jewish sites of learning.

Furthermore, in Iraq, which was just visited by Pope Francis - the second non-European pontiff after Gregory III of Syria (the 8th century AD) -, an Arab Christian kingdom was established. Later on, Kufa and Basra were founded and became great Islamic centers; followed by the birth of the rich religious heritage of Najaf and Karbala.

Last but not least, Iraq has been the home to around 20 religions and sects, a number of which have grown in its soil and have been indigenous to this country.

Thus, there is no doubt about the “historic” nature of the pontiff’s visit; however, at this point, one must leave emotions and idealism aside, and stick to realities, which are truly ugly in our part of the world.

In historic Ur, Pope Francis was welcomed by representatives of all Iraqi religious communities, and heard good speeches that reflected equally good intentions. Yet, behind that pure spectacle stood ugly facts, accumulated tragedies and a mysterious future. Indeed, the majority of many of the communities represented have already emigrated from Iraq to every continent, after paying a heavy price for the absence of good governance, contradictory interests and exclusionist animosities.,

Coming with a message of love and humility, the Pope also met with representatives of militias that speak a totally different language; but with PR-driven charlatanism, were credited with the honor of “defending the Christians”.

This absurd political situation, unfortunately, is not limited to Iraq, but applies throughout the Near East, and is being spread into the Arabian Peninsula. Major world leaderships should have been aware of the geopolitical, as well as the economic dimensions of what happened in Iraq in 1979 and is being repeated since 2003. Moreover, I believe that the Vatican, as a major Christian authority, possesses a “legitimacy” whose moral soft power more than compensates its lack of coercive power and military might.

Thus, if there is a chance of a new beginning for the coexistence between East and West, it would be better to transcend diplomatic niceties, and transform the dialogue between religious legitimate leaders from festivities and shows of goodwill to solid realities.

We have seen from our region’s ancient history how civilizations were born and died, states and occupiers came and went, populations uprooted and displaced, and how cultures thrived, languages evolved and identities and loyalties invented. Our region, under the burden of its grudges, wars and bouts of mass madness, is facing a major debacle; the worst worry is that hope would give way to despair and hatred would defeat amity and coexistence.

A country blessed by enormous natural and human potential, Iraq is currently teetering near the abyss of “failed states”. Of course, the conditions of Syria, Lebanon and what remains of Palestine, are not better, if not worse. Hence, the much-hoped for message the Pope could carry back to the whole world, would be that re-establishing the “state” concept is the fundamental requirement for saving the Arab Middle East.

This is impossible now for an important reason, which is that certain forces of the “status quo” (i.e. Iranian-backed militias), which impose their hegemony over Iraq, dominate Syria and control Lebanon, have their own “model” for how a “state” looks like; and they are working tirelessly to translate it in every place that fell to its sectarian militias.

That definition is based on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) “model”. The IRGC was initially invented as popular auxiliary militia to the official armed forces “in defense of the Islamic Revolution”. Soon enough, however, the IRGC became the real authoritative entity in Iran; expanding its interests from defense, to the political (including foreign relations) and economic spheres. Today, it is a major military, political and economic pillar of the “state establishment”; playing a vital role in Iran’s domestic politics, as well as promoting its aims internationally.

The IRGC’s model has been copied in Lebanon through Hezbollah, in Iraq through the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), in Yemen through the Houthis, and finally is emerging in Syria. Furthermore, just weakening the Iranian “state” in favor of the IRGC needed slogans such as “guarding the revolution” then “exporting the revolution” and “liberation of Palestine”; the logic was copied but modified in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

In Lebanon, since it borders Israel, and the fact that Israel was until 2000 occupying Lebanese territories, Hezbollah coined the “resistance” slogan. The situations elsewhere were different; so more relevant justifications for bringing down “state” institutions were needed in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The best justification found and promoted was fighting extremist Sunni Muslims gangs, beginning with Al-Qaeda, and ending with ISIS.

Ironically, however, the Syrian regime facilitated the movement of Al-Qaeda fighters across the Syria-Iraq borders in order to harass American troops based in Iraq, and push it to leave the occupied country and hand it over to Iran. Then, the pro-Iran Nuri Al-Maliki’s Iraqi government left the city of Mosul almost without a fight upon encountering a small ISIS force.

In addition to the above, while the Syrian regime intentionally allowed ISIS freedom of movement in open lands that would have easily been attacked from the air, such as Raqqa, Palmyra and the Syrian Desert, the Syrian air force was bombarding heavily populated cities. This was perhaps best “explained” by a pro-Damascus Lebanese politician, who said in a TV interview that “Damascus’ ‘strategy’ was based on getting rid of the direct danger posed by the (rebel) Free Syrian Army; leaving the world with the choice of either siding with regime or with ISIS.” If this was the regime’s intention, it worked spectacularly; as the world ignored the regime’s massacres – including its use of chemical weapons - and limited its efforts to fighting the intelligence-created and regionally nourished ISIS.

Yes, the Pope’s visit was important, but even more important is that it must not be - from a goodwill standpoint - counterproductive.

It is true that the Arab Middle East needs peace, brotherhood, diversity and coexistence, but also true is that minorities can only be protected by the legitimacy of the “state”.

The only guarantee for the minorities, Christians and non-Christian, inside and outside Iraq, is a “state” that is just and capable of defending the national independence, sovereignty, constitution and rule of law.

Any other alternative would be a disastrous mistake that leads to more despotism, injustice and tragedies.

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