Commentary: The Islamic Republic Of Iraq - Who Speaks for the People!

Rev. Ken Joseph Jr.

April 13, 2005 - 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 slate.

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 leave?"!

Hardly rejoicing!

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 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 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 Iran."

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 said.

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 Iraq.

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!


Ken Joseph Jr.


Rev. Ken Joseph Jr. is an Assyrian and has been in Iraq since March, directs and is writing a book about his experience in Iraq entitled `I Was Wrong!`

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