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Issue Date:  September 16, 2005

We are in a country without laws, says Iraq archbishop

With the security situation in Iraq slipping daily to a new and dreadful bottom, the risk of civil war is “serious,” says the archbishop of Baghdad.

Violence is engulfing Iraq as politicians wrestle with ethnic, religious and sectarian divisions magnified by a complex and highly contentious constitutional process, Latin rite Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman said in recent interview with Vatican Radio.

“We really live in a lawless country,” he said. “We are still in great chaos, but perhaps this word does not express the daily tragedy of the situation.

“The chaos is fueled, in fact, by violence, which I would not describe as blind, as it seems to be very well planned and, therefore, perverse,” he said

Iraqis have watched a rise in sectarian violence throughout the country with heightened nerves. The archbishop’s comments came just days after a crowd of Shiite pilgrims, gathered in Baghdad to celebrate the long ago martyrdom of a revered Shiite religious figure, erupted in panic at the mere rumor of a suicide bomber in their midst. The ensuing stampede killed close to 1,000.

Sleiman acknowledged the work of “many political leaders … doing everything possible to avoid” further descent into violence, but he also implied that more needs to be done in a country where ethnic and sectarian relations have been poisoned for decades by external and internal forces.

“A new effort is needed to help this population reconcile with itself, with its past, with its problems, and to encourage a new culture and a new mentality,” said the archbishop.

Turning to elections and the ongoing constitutional process, which President Bush has described as democracy “unfolding,” Sleiman was tentative: “I think the problem of democracy is one that goes beyond a constitution, beyond elections themselves.

“Democracy is the political expression of a philosophy, an anthropology, a culture, and I think it is necessary to continue to make many efforts,” he said.

“There are those who don’t want democracy, not because they are against it as such, but because they are against those who are building it.

“There are internal and international political problems,” he said, “but the social and anthropological background must really be reexamined.”

-- Jeff Severns Guntzel

National Catholic Reporter, September 16, 2005

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