COMMENTARY: Assyria: The Islamic Republic of Iraq?

By Jeremy Reynalds

An Assyrian Christian minister is sounding a note of caution about the current situation in Iraq.

In an article titled "The Islamic Republic of Iraq – Who Speaks for the People?"Assyrian Ken Joseph Jr. (the Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq) said a few months ago he had what he called a troubling conversation with Iraq's new Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaffari, about the future role of Islam in Iraq.

Joseph said he told al-Jaffari that non-Moslems are very concerned about the influence Islam would apparently have in the new government.

"Saddam Hussein, for all his faults," Joseph said, "did not allow religious influence in the government. In particular when the Governing Council of the previous Iraqi government set up a constitution committee they specifically voted, across religious and ethnic lines, that there should be no mention of ideology or religion in the new Iraqi constitution. Why, when this was so clear and the feeling of the Iraqi people so clear, did you insist on having Article 7 - ‘Islam is the religion of the nation'"?

Al-Jaffari reportedly responded, "If we did not put Islam as the religion of the state, the people would revolt!"

Joseph said he told al-Jaffari, who has spent 23 years living outside Iraq, that he had lost touch with his people.

"(Iraqis) are secular," Joseph told al–Jaffari. "Of course there are many, in the south mostly, who are somewhat religious, but the people do not want any involvement of the mullahs or religious leaders in government at all. They are very, very clear that they do not want to become anything even remotely like Iran."

Al - Jaffari seemed shocked, Joseph wrote, and was about to disagree when an Iraqi aide reportedly told him, "He (Joseph) is right. The people have changed. They do not want any part in any form of religion in government."

Joseph commented, "It was a very telling moment for ... the head of the (radical Islamic) Dawa Party ... and a close confident of Mr. Sistani, the Iranian head of the Shiite movement in Iraq."

Then a few days ago, Joseph wrote, he talked with Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, and the man appointed by Kofi Annan to put together a government following the handing over of power by the Coalition Provisional Authority in July 2004.

Brahimi was reportedly unapologetic for moving Iraq away from its secular government, Joseph wrote, "to an Islamic path in defiance of the will of the people."

According to Joseph, Brahimi said, I simply facilitated things. I have no agenda other than to let the Iraqi people express their will."

Joseph admitted that al-Jaffari said that when in power he would protect the rights of minorities. Al-Jaffari reportedly told Joseph, "When things settle down, come and see me again. I will assign a team from the government to go with you all over Iraq, and we will do a survey of the Assyrian Christians to find out their needs and put in place measures to help and protect them."

Joseph said there is still hope. "1,500 plus American heroes did not die to create ‘The Islamic Republic Of Iraq,' nor were lives given to deny the poor Iraqi people their voice."

The next battle in Iraq will be over the constitution, Joseph said. If al-Jaffari and others "who are out of touch with the Iraqi people" have their way, Iraq will become the "Islamic Republic of Iraq."

However, Joseph added. "If the Iraqi peoples' voice can truly be heard, it will be simply ‘The Republic of Iraq.'"

Joseph said, "The world must stand on the side of the long- suffering Iraqi people, who after getting rid of one nightmare do not deserve to have another."

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