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Iraqi Chaldean and Professor Joseph Yacoub Opines
By Amer Hedow :: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 :: 54080 Views :: Article Rating :: Opinion and Editorials

Lyon, FRANCE - Dario Salvi of AsiaNews reports that the “new” Iraq there is a clear strategy to eliminate Christians.  Salvi interviews Joseph Yacoub, an export on Christianity in the Middle East. 

Joseph Yacoub, an Iraqi Chaldean and professor of political science at the Catholic University of Lyon.  An expert in Christianity in the Middle East with a profound knowledge of the Iraqi reality, he criticizes the idea of a Christian enclave on the Nineveh plain and warns of a “political strategy that aims to eliminate Christians” which can only be halted if “the logic of divisions and self-interest is overcome”. 

He is also critical of the American troop withdrawal pact, judging it a “superficial change” which will not restore full “national sovereignty” to Iraq.  He is also against the electoral law, describing it as a “discriminatory measure” against Christians, who must impute the “government of Baghdad” that has failed to guarantee “unity and security in the country”.  Finally, he is worried by the climate of “distrust and fear” within the Christian community, since time immemorial the guarantor of “pluralistic and rich multi-culture” in Iraq, today abandoned to its own destiny.

Below is the published interview given by Joseph Yacoub:

Professor Yacoub, what is your opinion of the accord on American troop withdrawal by 2011, signed by the government and approved by the Iraqi parliament?

I would criticize the move, because its is merely a superficial change.  For the next three years US troops will remain on Iraqi soil, and so the country will in all effects, be occupied.  This situation has been ongoing for over five years now and failed to bring about substantial change in terms of security.  Now we still have to see how the Barak Obama administration will move following his investiture.  There is after all, a clause within the accord that provides for the possibility of to anticipate or even postpone the withdrawal. 

In recent days the government has boasted of a regained sense of national sovereignty.

In my opinion it is merely an attempt to achieve formal legitimacy, but in concrete terms it changes little.  The government, for example, has inserted a clause that foresees the possibility of military intervention should the country’s democratic institutions be threatened.  But can we, in all seriousness, claim that the country is democratic? The presence and role of America has not substantially changed.

And yet the parliamentary vote was described as a moment of wide consensus.

Parliament was pressure into voting in favor of the withdrawal plan and the ballot is proof of this.  A wide majority was actively sought to give legitimacy to the text, but the absence of 86 deputies out of 275 and 35 against, shows that in reality the majority was small.

What do you think of the electoral law that gives only six seats to minorities?

What has been done to minorities is dishonorable and discriminatory.  There were a series of protests but the bill was approved.  It is evident that there is a policy of marginalization of Christians, a policy that in the case of Mosul has become persecution.  It seems that there is a deliberate strategy that aims to politically eliminate the country’s Christians.  

Whose best interests would this serve?

It is the fault of those who govern Iraq.  In theory minorities are recognized and safeguarded by the Constitution, but here too it is a superficial declaration, because the reality is dramatically different.

The Christians who have remained in Iraq seem have been forced to a crossroads: leave or become refugees on the Nineveh Plain.  Is there no third choice?

That is the point.  We need to think in collective terms and look at the country in its totality, even with its obvious internal divisions.  First a global vision must be elaborated, on then will we be able to consider the statute and the representation for Christians.  Iraq must remain united, based on its own foundations and not on confessional, religious, ethnic criteria which only increase division.  We must leave this logic behind, because it ruptures the nation.

The hypothesis of a federal nation has been mentioned

The theory of a federal state may be a valid one, but only if it is built upon a principal of unity, even with internal differences.  The Constitution, because of how it was drawn up, encourages separatism; we need first and foremost to draw up a moral accord between the various factions, because without unity the nation will collapse.

But is there the will be stay united?

This is the point.  Let’s go back to the Christians: creating an enclave on the Nineveh Plain will only complicate matters by negatively changing the community within the country.  In the best case scenario it will become a buffer zone between the Arabs and the Kurds and could end up being exploited.  It cannot be the best solution for a community that has lived in the country for centuries and that has been a concrete witness of Iraq’s pluralistic and multi-cultural society that is one of the nation’s greatest resources.  Christians are Iraqi citizens in all effects; the Churches mission is to be a bridge between different culture and the conditions for this means having an Iraq that is founded on civic criteria.   Not a divided country that runs the risk of folding in on itself and isolating itself.  The government has to guarantee this, sustained by the international community.

What do you think of the European Union’s decision to accept 10 thousand Iraqi refugees?

Here too, the real issue is to guarantee security so they can return to their homeland.  For Christians in particular, the psychological aspect is extremely important: they need to know they are not alone and isolated.  I remember what my mother would say to us when we were small, almost 50 years ago: there is someone who is thinking of us and she was speaking of the Pope.  We are not orphans.  Christians need this psychological help and solidarity.  The ideal is to help them stay in their land.

Professor Yacoub, what future do you see for Iraq?

Iraq must find the road to renewed unity, stability and peace.  We are all Iraqis; we all belong to this country, regardless of our ethnic background or religious beliefs.

St. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  

Rev. Frank Kalabat

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.


Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.