DETROIT – U.S. troops should withdraw and let Iraqi factions fight it out, the bishop for most Iraqi Catholics in the United States said June 19.
“Let the Iraqis kill each other, but let the occupying power get out, because they are not killing each other because they are Sunni or Shiite, but because they are with the Americans or against the Americans,” said Chaldean Catholic Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.
The head of the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle made the comments in an impassioned sermon at a special Mass at Mother of God (Chaldean) Cathedral in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, where the eparchy has its headquarters.
The Mass, which drew close to 1,000 people, was celebrated to memorialize recently slain Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and the three subdeacons who were killed with him, as well as to pray for all those who have died in the fighting in Iraq, including U.S. troops, and for the safety of Iraq’s remaining Christians.
Bishop Ibrahim said the situation of Christians in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, “is very, very bad,” with Islamic terrorists threatening that they must convert to Islam or pay a special tax as protection money.
Even if they choose to leave, they are being threatened to leave any unmarried daughters behind so they can be taken as wives by Muslims and forced to convert to Islam, the bishop said.
But Bishop Ibrahim said he does not believe the Muslims killing and threatening Christians are from either of Iraq’s two Muslim groupings – Shiites or Sunnis – but rather al-Qaida terrorists from outside Iraq.
The bishop spoke in Arabic at the Mass, but later provided an English translation of his major points.
“For a Christian to be killed in the Middle East is nothing new – it often happened in the second, third and fourth centuries that Christians were martyred for their faith – but for Christians to be killed in the 21st century, when the world’s major superpower has 150,000 troops in that country, is a terrible thing,” he said. “Why are they there if they cannot defend human life and human rights?”
Bishop Ibrahim said U.S. troops should at least withdraw from the cities, and he believes the warring factions would eventually reach some sort of power-sharing arrangement.
The current situation puts Christians in the hazardous position of being perceived as being allied with the foreign occupiers, but the Americans provide no special protection for them, the bishop continued.
“We do not have weapons, we do not have a militia, and nobody is supporting us,” he said.
And even with some of the additional troops from the planned surge in U.S. forces already in place, there is no security in Baghdad, he noted.
“Things are worse and worse and worse every single day, even for the Americans. The best thing is to withdraw, and then let the brothers attack each other,” Bishop Ibrahim said.
When Father Ganni and the three subdeacons were killed June 3 by men wearing masks after leaving a church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul following Mass, the police did not even come to investigate, Bishop Ibrahim said. “Their bodies lay on the streets for two hours after they were killed.”
The bishop said he was about 30 miles from Mosul when the four men were slain.
The best hope for improving the situation in Iraq would probably be for troops from other Arab countries under the auspices of the United Nations to be sent in to replace withdrawing U.S. forces, in Bishop Ibrahim’s view.
Remon Samir Jiddou, parish council vice president at Mother of God, said there is not much fellow Chaldeans back in Iraq can do about the dangers they now face. “It’s out of our hands; that’s why we pray to God. All we have is our faith in God, that he will protect us.”
Parishioner Ferial Kishmesh said, “I’m praying for all Iraqis – whether Christian or Muslim. We’re all brothers and sisters.”
Most Iraqi Christians – both in Iraq and in the United States – are Chaldean Catholics, ethnic Assyrians whose church has been in union with Rome since the 16th century. Smaller groupings of Iraqi Christians include members of the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East, from which the Chaldeans split, and Syriac Catholics.
The Southfield-based Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle is the diocese for Chaldean Catholics living in approximately the eastern half of the United States. Of about 160,000 Chaldeans in the U.S., about 120,000 are in the eparchy, with some 110,000 of them living in metropolitan Detroit.
Bishop Ibrahim said about 120,000 Chaldeans still live in their traditional villages in the north of Iraq or in northern cities such as Mosul, while perhaps 250,000 live in Baghdad. Chaldeans have been leaving Iraq for years, and even more would like to, he said.
“If they have money and the means and a passport, they want to get out,” the bishop added.