By Bishop Bashar Matti Warda
Speech delivered to the Security Council at the UN Security Council Briefing on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) on 3 December 2019.
What is the current situation?
The current protests in Iraq demonstrate the rejection by the majority of the Iraqi people of the post 2003 structure and government of the country. It is a rejection of a sectarian-based Constitution, which has divided Iraq and prevented it from becoming a unified and functioning country. Instead of bringing hope and prosperity, the current government structure has brought continued corruption and despair, especially to the youth of Iraq.
It is very significant that young Iraqis have been the leaders in the protests. These young people have made it clear that they want Iraq to be independent of foreign interference, and to be a place where all can live together as equal citizens in a country of legitimate pluralism and respect for all.
It is important to understand that Christians have not only sided with the protestors openly, but also that the Christians and other minorities including Yazidis, have been welcomed into the protest movement by the Iraqi Muslims. In a real sense, these protests have demonstrated the true richness of the historical Iraq. This opening of reconciliation between all Iraqis demonstrates real hope for positive changes in which a new government in Iraq, if there is a new government, will be much more positive towards a genuinely multi-religious Iraq with full citizenship for all and an end to this sectarian disease which has so violently harmed and degraded us all.
In contrast, the non-violence of the protestors must not be overlooked by the international community. These courageous protestors have been committed to non-violence from the very beginning of the movement, even though there have been daily instances of extreme violence directed towards the protestors from militia forces who have continually attempted to provoke confrontation. Over 400 innocent protestors have now been murdered, and many thousands seriously injured. Yet the protestors still remain non-violent.
What is at stake?
At stake is whether Iraq will finally emerge from the trauma of Saddam and the past 16 years to become a legitimate, independent and functioning country, or whether it will become a permanently lawless region, open to proxy wars between other countries and movements, and a servant to the sectarian demands of those outside Iraq.
If the protest movement is successful in creating a new government, with a new, civil constitution, respecting the diversity of its religions, and cultures, one not based in Sharia but instead based upon the fundamental concepts of freedom for all, freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written by this organization where we all sit today, then a time of hope can still exist for the long suffering Iraqi people. Despite everything, the Iraqi people love their country, and they want it back.
If the protest movement is not successful, if the international community stands by and allows the murder of innocents to continue, Iraq will likely soon fall into civil war, the result of which will send millions of young Iraqis, including most Christians and Yazidis, into the diaspora. In the crisis and the genocide of 2014, over four million Iraqis, Muslims, Yazidis and Christians fled to the Kurdistan region seeking refuge from the evil of ISIS, but still remained within the country. In another major conflict, we are likely to see the people flee from Iraq for good. We are indeed at perhaps the last chance for our country.
What can and should the international community do to help?
The international community must not be satisfied with false changes in leadership which do not really represent change. It is clear that the ruling power groups do not intend to give up control, and that they will make every effort to fundamentally keep the existing power structures in place. The international community must clearly understand that the protestors will not accept this, and the international community must not take part in supporting any type of false change.
This is not to say that certain groups do not have legitimate concerns regarding their proper representation in any new government. However, these concerns must be addressed in a way which reflects the reality of the current broken nature of Iraq’s government, and its fundamental need for change and replacement.
The first step must be the initiation of early elections. The protestors insist on this and the International community must fully support this. Unlike the very limited participation of past elections, these elections must involve the youth of the country – those who have stood up so courageously against corruption during the protests these past weeks.
Bashar Matti Warda is the Chaldean Catholic bishop of the Archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq.