- In the midst of the joy over an Iraqi government
finally in place a word of caution!
As an Assyrian Christian, the indigenous people of
Iraq we are extremely concerned for the future of
Iraq. What has particularly bothered me is all the
people who seem to always speak for the People!
First, was the election. In contrast to what is
generally presented, it was not a "free and fair"
election. Previous to the Election the Iraqi
Government estimated from one to three million
Iranians that had streamed across the border, many to
illegally vote - of course for the radical, Shiite
In the North, out of 33 election offices, only nine
were open and out of a worldwide population of at
least three million only 32,000 votes were counted for
the Assyrian Christians.
I was there during the time of Saddam. It was a living
nightmare! The real "Abu Ghraib" was a torture chamber
for Saddam. My relatives can show you the scars all
over their body from their time there!
What were the Iraqis afraid of as war approached? Not
the US Bombing but the release of chemical, biological
and nuclear weapons by a cornered Saddam whom they to
a man believed he had and would use!
Against the war? Are you kidding? The Iraqis were so
desperate for a war to come to liberate them days
before the war the talk of Baghdad was those who were
going to commit suicide if the war did not come!
I was there on the day of the handover from the US to
the UN. All those against the war said there would be
dancing in the streets as the people had done when
Saddam's sons were killed and Saddam caught.
Baghdad on July 30? Total silence! No dancing! No
parties! Just a quiet despair settled over the city.
Iraqis quietly asked "Are the Americans going to
For all of Saddam Hussein's faults - and I was there
during his time in power - he severely limited any
role for religion in the Government. The result a
secular, modern Iraqi population, cowered, intimidated
and cut off from the world as they were.
A few months ago I had a long conversation with
Ibrahim al-Jaffari who just became the new Prime
Minister of Iraq.
Having met him on a number of occasions in Baghdad,
including the day of the installation of the new Iraqi
Government in July of 2004 I found him to be open,
kind and helpful in particular to the plight of the
minorities in Iraq.
In our long discussion, though I became very troubled.
My question to Mr. Jaffari was very simple. I asked:
"Mr. Jaffari, for those of us who are not moslems we
are deeply concerned about the future of Iraq and the
role of islam in Iraq. As you know Saddam Hussein, for
all his faults did not allow religious influence in
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
idealogy 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 - "
Mr. Jaffari replied " If we did not put islam as the
religion of the state the people would revolt!"
I turned to Mr. Jaffari and with a smile said "Mr.
Jaffari, I think you have been outside of Iraq too
long - he was in Iran for 10 years and the UK for 13 -
You have lost touch with your people. They are
secular! 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
Mr. Jaffari appeared shocked. He started to protest
when his aide, an Iraqi interjected.
"Sir", he said, looking at Mr. Jaffari, "he is right -
the people have changed, they do not want any part in
any form of religion in Government."
It was a very telling moment for someone who was the
head of the Dawa Party a radical islamic party and a
close confident of Mr. Sistani, the Iranian head of
the Shiite movement in Iraq.
Further, just a few days ago I had a conversation 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 of last year.
Mr. Brahimi, similarly had no apologies for moving
Iraq away from its secular, open situation to a
Islamic path in defiance of the will of the people.
"I simply facilitated things. I have no agenda other
than to let the Iraqi people express their will." he
In fairness to Mr. Jaffari, he also promised when in
power that he would protect the rights of the
minorities. "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."
At the same time, I sensed the same theme - outsiders,
more radical that those in the country claiming to
speak "for the people.'
It is not too late! 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 is over the constitution. If
Mr. Jaffari, the Iranian Sisastani and the others who
are out of touch with the Iraqi people who have only
one desire - we just want to be normal - no Saddam, no
mullahs or religious leaders in Government - have
their way Iraq will become The Islamic Replicu of
If the Iraqi peoples voice can truly be heard it will
be simply "The Republic of Iraq."
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!