Post-war Iraq sinking into anarchy and chaos
Islamic fundamentalists putting Christians under pressure - women forced to wear veils out of fear - occupation powers unable to cope
Marie Angel Siebrecht runs the section covering Iraq for the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Last week she returned from a trip to Iraq. Markus Reder spoke to her about her impressions.
What is the situation of Christians in Iraq?
Thousands of Christian families have for months now had no means of income. Many government offices, companies and shops have been destroyed. People are suffering because they have no work. This is true for the Muslims just as it is for the Christians. The situation for everybody is very bad. In Iraq, chaos and anarchy reign. It is urgent that everything possible is done to restore normality to life. In the south of the country the situation of Christians is still worse. In Basra, for example, Christians are increasingly being put under pressure by the Shiite Muslims. The Shiite are in the majority here and want power. This is also apparent as one walks around the town. Where once pictures of Saddam Hussein were pasted up, now there are pictures of the Shiite leaders.
What effect is this pressure from the Shiite Muslims having on the life of the Christian minority in Iraq?
I have seen for myself that Christian women have to go about covered from head to foot in veils in the street for their own safety, otherwise they would be attacked or abused. This is true especially in Basra. We have not yet seen this in Baghdad or in the North, in Mosul. There the situation is better. In the South the Shiites are the strongest and so they are trying to exert pressure.
Do these demonstrations of strength by the fundamentalists point to an attempt at a radical islamisation?
That is difficult to say. Nobody, not even the people on the spot whom we spoke to - whether bishops, the nuncio or ordinary people - could tell us what is going to happen. They are all hoping that it will not come to a strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism. But nobody can exclude that possibility, least of all in the south.
When Christian women have to cover themselves with a veil for fear of attack, does that mean that the occupying powers are simply standing by and allowing the Islamic fundamentalists a free hand?
One cannot exactly say that. The occupying forces are only present here and there. But at the moment the main concern is not the security of the Christians, but the security of everyone. In Iraq there is no security. Even in Baghdad the students, and above all the young women, are afraid to return to university, regardless of whether they are Muslims or Christians. People simply do not know what might happen to them at the next street corner. The occupying forces are obviously overstretched.
How are Christians reacting?
The few Christians who are left in Iraq will try to leave the country. They are being more or less forced to emigrate. They have the feeling that in any case they will not have any real role to play in the new Iraq. People talk about Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and about the Kurds, but no one says anything at all about the Christians. Of course they are only a minority, but they have a right to be there, just like everybody else. At the moment, however, people have the impression that everything is only getting worse. The attacks on the occupying forces by small terrorist groups will probably become more frequent.