Vatican official calls for military protection of Iraqi Christians
The Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations on Saturday urged the international community to provide humanitarian assistance and military and political protection for Christians persecuted by the Islamic State.
“We hope the voice that is surging from different Christian and religious communities, from moderate Muslims, from people of good will around the world, may find the response of concrete humanitarian assistance that is provided for the Christians in northern Iraq as well as some political and even effective military protection,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told Vatican Radio Aug. 9.
The militant Sunni Islamist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was among the rebels fighting in the Syrian civil war; this spring it spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country's north and west, as well as in northern Syria.
It has now declared a caliphate, and calls itself the Islamic State. On Aug. 11 it seized the town of Jalawla, located 90 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province.
All non-Sunni persons in the Islamic State have been persecuted – tens of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims have fled the territory.
“We are faced with a certain indifference at the practical level with the international community. It is difficult to convince – because of false modesty, I would say – the Western powers to take a strong stance in defense of the Christians,” Archbishop Tomasi lamented.
He was encouraged that there is now “action beginning on the part of the international community,” citing special sessions of the U.N., U.S. military intervention, and that “some governments are beginning to express their suggestions for practical action in defense of these populations.”
The U.S. began airstrikes to protect Erbil, as well as Yazidis who fled Sinjar, on Aug. 8, which have continued.
The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael I Sako, lamented the small scale of military intervention in an Aug. 10 statement.
“The position of the American president Obama only to give military assistance to protect Erbil is disappointing,” said Patriarch Sako. “The Americans are not up to a rapid solution to give hope specifically as they are not going to attack the ISIS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain.”
“The confirmation that this terrible situation will continue until the Iraqi Security Forces will fight along with Peshmerga against the ISIS militants is very depressing. The President of the Kurdistan Region said that the Kurdish troops are fighting with a terrorist State and not minor groups! While the country is under fire, the politicians in Baghdad are fighting for power.”
“At the end, perhaps, Mosul will not be liberated neither the villages in the Nineveh Plain. There is no strategy to dry up the sources of manpower and the resources of these Islamic terrorists. They control the oil town of Zumar and the oil fields of Ain Zalah and Batma along with the oil fields of Al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor in Syria. The Islamic extremist fighters are joining them from different countries around the world.”
France announced Aug. 13 that it would begin supplying arms to the peshmerga, Kurdish militants fighting the Islamic State, the same day.
Patriarch Sako also emphasized the scale of needed humanitarian aid for the displaced.
“Death and sickness are grabbing the children and elderly people among the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan Region who lost everything in the recent tragic developments while the ISIS Militants are still advancing and the humanitarian aid is insufficient.”
He said there are 70,000 displaced Christians in Erbil: “the families who found shelter inside the churches or schools are in a rather good condition while those who are still sleeping in the streets and public parks are in a deplorable situation.” He added that there are more than 60,000 displaced Christians in Dohuk, whose “situation is worse than those in Erbil.”
“While the humanitarian needs are escalating: housing, food, water, medicine and funds, the lack of international coordination is slowing and limiting the realization of an effective assistance to these thousands awaiting immediate support. The Churches are offering everything within their capacity.”
According to the UNHCR, there are more than 1.2 million internally displaced persons in Iraq, as well as at least 10,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria.
The U.S., U.K., and France have also provided food, water, and other aid to those displaced by the caliphate.
On Aug. 12, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a statement calling on religious leaders, especially Muslims, to condemn the Islamic State and its acts of terrorism.
“This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions, and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity,” it said.
Citing the terrorizing acts of the Islamic State, the pontifical council said that “no cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity. This constitutes an extremely serious offense to humanity and to God who is the Creator … We cannot forget, however, that Christians and Muslims have lived together – it is true with ups and downs – over the centuries, building a culture of peaceful coexistence and civilization of which they are proud. Moreover, it is on this basis that, in recent years, dialogue between Christians and Muslims has continued and intensified.”
“The dramatic plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious communities and ethnic minorities in Iraq requires a clear and courageous stance on the part of religious leaders, especially Muslims, as well as those engaged in interreligious dialogue and all people of good will. All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?”
The pontifical council called on religious leaders to “exercise their influence with the authorities to end these crimes, to punish those who commit them and to reestablish the rule of law throughout the land, ensuring the return home of those who have been displaced. While recalling the need for an ethical management of human societies, these same religious leaders must not fail to stress that the support, funding and arming of terrorism is morally reprehensible.”
The dicastery concluded saying that it “is grateful to all those who have already raised their voices to denounce terrorism, especially that which uses religion to justify it.”