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 CNS Story:

YEAREND-IRAQ Dec-14-2006 (950 words) With logo posted Dec. 11. xxxi

Iraq: More deaths, few stories of hope leave many asking what's next

By Regina Linskey
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The war in Iraq has raised questions baffling religious and political leaders during 2006 as more information surfaced and often resulted in more confusion.

Is Iraq in a civil war? Should the United States "cut and run" or "stay the course?"

As stories from the few remaining Chaldean Christians started to be heard from Iraq, it became clear that their situation was dire.

Father Habib Jajou al-Noufaly, a Baghdad parish priest before he was appointed as head of the Catholic Chaldean Mission in London in 2003, told Catholic News Service in an e-mail Dec. 12 that Iraqi Christians have seen more violence this year than in previous years.

According to Father al-Noufaly's calculations, this year alone eight priests have been kidnapped and more than 700 Christians have been killed, including two children who were crucified.

Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad has said that violence, persecution and instability together with the world's apparent indifference to the plight of the country's Christians have forced them to leave the country by the thousands.

Half of the country's Christians who were in Iraq before the U.S. war began in 2003 remain there today. Father al-Noufaly said a few Christians who were wealthy in Iraq have been able to rebuild their lives in their new host countries.

To keep Christians and other minorities from disappearing, the former Iraqi minister of displacement and migration suggested dividing Iraq into administrative units.

In October Pascale Warda, the former minister, said the only solution for Iraqi Christians and minorities was to create an administrative region with local jurisdictions to encompass the Nineveh plain and minorities' lands in the western part of the Dahuk region. The suggestion received mixed responses.

Although the media has reported widely on the horrors of the war this year, a few stories of hope, reconstruction and life made headlines.

In Baghdad, a small group of U.S. Catholic volunteers successfully coordinated the overseas donation and distribution of hundreds of pounds of children's shoes, clothes and school supplies to a local Chaldean Catholic parish.

The Chaldean parish children, especially girls, only began going to school after U.S.-led forces arrived in 2003, and they needed supplies, said Alexander Von Plinsky, who started the group during the summer while serving as a senior adviser with the State Department in Iraq.

The activities of the group, an unofficial council of the Knights of Columbus made up of temporary workers living in the International Zone, helped break up the hectic and mundane work, he told CNS in an October interview.

During the year, more and more troops faced long and multiple deployments.

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services which includes all U.S. military personnel and their families, told CNS that as U.S. public support for a military presence in Iraq wanes morale among the troops declines, even though the majority of those stationed in Iraq still experience their role as being primarily one of reconstruction and not of combat.

"The news only shows cars being blown up," he said. "But the soldiers see hospitals being built and schools opening."

Father Brian Kane, an army chaplain for the 67th Area Support Group at Al Asad Airfield, in the Iraqi Al Anbar region, told CNS in mid-June that U.S. troops deployed in Iraq must balance having "one foot home and one foot" halfway around the world.

Father Paul Halladay, a battalion chaplain with the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment (Air Assault) in Ramadi, said he has to help his battalion, descendents of Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers," keep it brotherly in a region of Iraq he calls "the most dangerous place on the planet."

High-profile leadership changes in Iraq, the Vatican and the United States also affected Iraq.

In May, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was sworn in, leading the country from a transitional government to a full-term government.

In the United States, U.S. President George W. Bush, feeling the heat after voters knocked the Republican Party out of power, accepted the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in November. Rumsfeld was to leave his job Dec. 18, when Robert Gates was to be sworn in as his replacement.

Toward the end of 2006, Bush began speaking of a new course of action to stabilize the country by giving more responsibility to al-Maliki. The president said he would wait until the new year to reveal the new plan of action.

At the Vatican in April, Pope Benedict XVI named a new apostolic nuncio to Iraq -- Archbishop Francis Chullikatt. He replaced Archbishop Fernando Filoni, who had served in Iraq since early 2001.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone became the new secretary of state in September, replacing Cardinal Angelo Sodano, but the Vatican has not changed its course in continuing to appeal for peace and human rights in Iraq.

Earlier this year, Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the pontifical councils for Interreligious Dialogue and for Culture, told the Italian news agency ANSA that former dictator Saddam Hussein should not be executed after being convicted of killing 148 Shiite villagers in 1982.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, reiterated his colleague's theme of the value of God-given life Nov. 5, the day Saddam was sentenced to death.

Despite the Vatican's continued calls for peace, the death toll reached record highs in 2006.

In October, U.S. 105 soldiers were killed in Iraq, the highest number for a month in nearly two years. The death toll of Iraqis also hit a record high in October: More than 3,700 people died in sectarian violence.


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