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Cardinal issues SOS to Jack Straw over Iraq

posted on 05 September 2005
Urges Foreign Minister to intervene in Iraqi Constitution to protect Christian rights

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor has urged the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to intervene in the drafting of the Iraqi constitution to remove a clause which could deprive Christians and other minorities of their basic rights as citizens.

The Archbishop of Westminster’s letter to the Foreign Secretary on Friday was written after church leaders in Iraq sounded the alarm over Article 2(a) in the draft constitution, which was submitted on 25 August. The Article states that “no law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam”, in the AP translation.

Although Church leaders “do not question that Iraq will be an Islamic state, nor object to Islam being considered one source of legislation among others, they are most alarmed by the phrase” in Article 2(a), Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor wrote to Jack Straw.

The Cardinal warned that if the clause remained it could have “devastating consequences” for Iraq’s ancient Christian minority, and “fatally undermine” Britain’s plans for a stable democracy in the region. The Constitution, he warned, contains “a real threat to religious freedom.”

The draft will be voted on in a general referendum and ratified by the general assembly on 15 October, but discussions are under way to fine-tune the draft, according to the Associated Press on Friday.

The Cardinal has asked Jack Straw “to influence the parties to the Constitution to enshrine specific guarantees which establish the equality of non-Muslims and to remove the above-mentioned clause”.

Warning of “an exodus of Christians from Iraq”, the Cardinal told Jack Straw that “the British objective in establishing a stable democracy in that country would be fatally undermined” if their rights were not protected.
Notes:
1) Not too late. 'Discussions are under way to make minor changes in the language to improve the text to satisfy some parties,' Shiite negotiator Khalid al-Attiyah told The Associated Press on Friday. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he believed 'a final, final draft' had not been completed and that 'edits' were still possible.

2) On 25 August, Pope Benedict told Iraq’s foreign minister in Castelgandolfo that it was vital to respect religious freedom. He also “emphasised that the reconstruction of the institutions must take place in a climate of dialogue, which will involve all the religious groups and the different components of society,” according to the Vatican press office.

3) Approx. 3% of all Iraqi citizens are baptised Christians. Catholics are about 1%. Catholics and Orthodox in Iraq predate Islam. There are around 650,000 Iraqi Christians. Muslims make up 90% of the population, of whom 63% are Shiite.

4) The Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, who met Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor in London in July, said if Islam were the sole source of legislation in the Constitution, this would mean Christians losing a host of their freedoms: women would be forced to wear the veil, and would impose restrictions on building or repairing churches. Christians would have little protection in law. “If there is nothing that assures Christians of their rights they will leave for other countries,” he warned.

5) One of the fears is that the federal nature of the Constitution would effectively allow the imposition of Shariah law in the south, which is heavily Shiite.

For further information on Church in Iraq and for comments by church leaders there, contact John Pontifex at Aid to the Church in Need, tel. 020 8642 8668 or mobile 07949 249 750, email JohnP@acnuk.org
Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Director for Public Affairs
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860
posted on 05 September 2005

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