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Religious Freedom Is Solution for Iraq, Prelate Says
Proposed Division of Boundaries Concerns Kirkuk Archbishop

KIRKUK, Iraq, JAN. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Worried over the increasingly complicated situation in Iraq, the archbishop of Kirkuk warns that a division of boundaries will lead to more conflict, with Christians caught in the middle.

AsiaNews reported on Tuedsay an interview with Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako, who says that a divided Iraq will not be a peaceful Iraq.

The archbishop said that granting religious freedom, however, would be a preferable solution.

"Internet sites and papers are already publishing the new political maps with the Kurdish north, the Shiite south and the Sunni center," he said. "Things are going from bad to worse and the population is living in fear and uncertainty, not knowing where they will live."

The archbishop says he believes this will have serious consequences also for neighboring countries, "where the local Kurdish population is demanding autonomy or independence, but where local governments are opposed. The division of Iraq is not a solution, and will not bring peace and stability."

Power without peace

According to the prelate, the current government does not ensure peace. "For Sunnis, Shiite Iran is the main cause of their marginalization and for what is happening in Iraq," he said. "Shiites have taken power, but the current government has failed to achieve the desired reconciliation or to ensure peace."

Archbishop Sako also considers a false solution the proposed upcoming referendum, which could result in Kirkuk joining either Kurdistan or a Sunni province: "Huge interests and dangerous tensions gravitate around Kirkuk. The city is not homogeneous, nor ethnically uniform. Residents are Muslim, Christian, Kakai, Kurdish, Arab, Turkish, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians. Will it be an independent political and administrative entity? Annexed by Kurdistan? Or by the neighboring Sunni province?"

The referendum is considered a difficult proposal in a climate of violence, which has resulted in many people leaving their homes for safer places to live.

Christian settlement?

Perhaps most uncertain is the future of Christians in the majority Muslim country. Archbishop Sako fears that possible plans for a Christian safe haven on the Nineveh plain will not succeed.

He said: "They would have their own territory, but to be viable, the idea of a protected zone, a safe haven, which is viewed sympathetically by the Kurds and even the Americans, needs an end to the violence and remains in any event, a dangerous plan.

"The Nineveh plain is largely surrounded by Arabs, and Christians would serve as a useful and undefended buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds."

According to the archbishop the best solution is religious freedom: "In my opinion it would be preferable to work at the constitutional level and each area to guarantee religious freedom and equal rights for believers of all faiths throughout the land, including Christians, who can be found everywhere."