IRAQ: Fresh violence threatens our future

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Nathaniel Nizar Semaan of Hadiab-Erbil.
Syriac Catholic Archbishop Nathaniel Nizar Semaan of Hadiab-Erbil.

A bishop from Erbil – where Iran carried out missile attacks – has warned that any continuation of conflict in the region could cause Iraq’s fragile Christian community to lose confidence in the future.

In an interview today (Thursday, 9th January) with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Syriac Catholic Archbishop Nathaniel Nizar Semaan of Hadiab-Erbil issued an appeal for prayer, stating his hope that the conflict was just “temporary”.

His comments come as bishops from across the region highlighted the potential impact of the renewed tension on Iraq’s Christian community, amid reports that the faithful have dwindled to below 250,000 – a decline of 90 percent within a generation.

Archbishop Semaan told ACN: “Any conflict and tension such as what we have seen over these past days makes us lose our trust in the situation [in Iraq].

“We just hope that it was just a temporary situation of violence and will finish immediately.”

Iran carried out ballistic missile attacks on US air bases in Erbil as well as Al Asad, west of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, on Tuesday (7th January) night in response to the US killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani four days earlier.

Archbishop Semaan, who last summer became archbishop after 14 years as Syriac Catholic chaplain in the UK, said: “We know that the politicians will do everything necessary to stop these attacks.

“We want to have a good relationship with everybody but at the same time respect our dignity and identity as Iraqi people.”

He added: “We hope that we are not going to reach that point where we will have to leave. We hope that we will never reach that point.”

His comments come after fellow Erbil prelate Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda and Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Yousif Mirkis of Kirkuk expressed concerns about Iraq becoming the setting for clashes between Iran and the US.

Archbishop Warda said: “The current tensions are threatening the serious fragility of the [Christian, Yazidi and other minority] communities, which are tired of war and the tragic consequences of it.”

These communities, he continued, beset by “fears and anxieties…, need the certainty, reassurance, hope and the belief that Iraq can be a peaceful country to live in rather than being victims and endless collateral damage.”

Iraq is a priority country for Aid to the Church in Need which provided emergency help for Christians forced from the Nineveh Plains by Daesh (ISIS).

Following Daesh’s defeat, ACN is helping the faithful return to their homelands.