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 CNS Story:

IRAQ-VIOLENCE May-20-2013 (430 words) xxxi

Chaldean patriarch warns surge in Iraqi violence will divide country

By Doreen Abi Raad
Catholic News Service

BEIRUT (CNS) -- The patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad denounced a recent series of car bombings and shootings in Iraqi cities that left at least 54 people dead and dozens more injured.

Patriarch Louis Sako, told Catholic News Service in an email May 20 that the current violence is between minority Sunni and majority Shiite Muslims, who also run the Iraqi government. Christians are not being directly targeted, he said.

"But they are afraid and their exodus continues nevertheless," Patriarch Sako said of Iraq's Christian population.

"The morale of Christians in the area is down," the patriarch said.

Iraq has witnessed the emigration of more than half of its native Christians since the American-led invasion of the country in 2003.

Attacks have escalated in recent months, with some of the worst violence occurring May 20 in Baghdad, where nine explosions rocked bus stations and markets in mainly Shiite areas. Police said nearly 200 people were injured. Eight Iranian pilgrims were identified among the dead, the BBC reported.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Car bombings also rocked Basra May 20, leaving nine dead and at least 37 injured, police said.

In Haditha, about 155 miles west of Baghdad, gunmen ambushed two police checkpoints May 20, killing eight officers.

Ten police officers kidnapped May 18 in western Anbar province were found dead.

"It is terrible," Patriarch Sako said of the latest violence. "It seems a step aimed at the division of Iraq."

People across the country feel that the situation is deteriorating "and they are afraid especially when it takes a sectarian line -- for the moment it is (between) Sunni and Shiites," the patriarch said.

"People are worried about the future," he said.

The patriarch questioned "the motive and the reasoning behind changing regimes (of countries) with wars," citing rising violence in Egypt and Libya, where newly installed government leaders have been challenged by opposing groups, as well as the deteriorating situation in Syria, where a civil war has raged for more than two years.

Instilling democracy and a culture of freedom, he said, requires education and a sound strategy for the long term. But toppling a totalitarian regime with one that is fundamentalist (Islam) "is even worse," Patriarch Sako cautioned.

Instead of being equal citizens, he warned that Christians "will be considered second class because of their religion in a country in which Islam is the only standard."

"I think moderate Muslims should be aware and assure Christians that they, indeed, will be respected as equal citizens," the patriarch said.

END


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