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from issue no. 10 - 2005

Iraq, fatherland of all

Dialogue between the President of the Iraqi Republic Jalal Talabani and the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldees Emmanuel III Delly, a 30Days exclusive

Interwiew with of the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly

Here above, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani with Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly in the residence of the Opera della Chiesa in Rome, Novemebr 10 2005

Here above, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani with Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly in the residence of the Opera della Chiesa in Rome, Novemebr 10 2005

«Now returning to your respective Sees, you are encouraged by this experience of communion gotten near the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul. It is a communion that finds a particular expression here, today, in raising to the Lord together with the Successor of Peter the common prayer of gratitude.
I exhort you, dearly beloved, to continue in your pastoral commitment and in your ministry of hope for the entire Iraqi nation. In entrusting all of your communities to the sweet protection of the Mother of God, I very willingly impart to you, to your priests, to the religious, male and female, and to all the faithful the apostolic blessing, pledge of peace and of consolation from Heaven».
Thus, at the end of the audience, of November 12, Pope Benedict greeted His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldees (Iraq) and the prelates participating in the special synod for the Chaldean bishops, which began on November 8 and had just ended. The morning of Thursday November 10 the President of the Iraqi Republic Jalal Talabani met Pope Benedict XVI, for the first time. The same day he was guest of Patriarch Delly and the Chaldean bishops, in the residence of the “Opera della Chiesa” (the Works of the Church) in Rome, in a convivial moment in which the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, and the Prefect for the Eastern Churches, Ignace Moussa I Daoud, also participated. An intense day, in which it was sought to give greater concreteness to the many hopes of the Christian community in Iraq – sometimes in explicit dialogues or through discreet allusions of the diplomacy of gestures.
The Pope then, in the audience, spoke of gratitude and hope. The same that we find in what the Patriarch Delly said to 30Days, in this exclusive interview given on November 10 along with President Talabani.

Mister President Talabani, as you remember, the Holy See was against the war in Iraq. You have met Pope Benedict XVI for the first time. What subjects were at the core of your discussions? What does the Holy See hope for from the new Iraq and what are your expectations?
I also gave the Pope some details about the new Constitution which will be examined in the new Parliament.
I hope His Holiness will help Christians in Iraq. I explained to him that our brothers and sisters in Iraq are suffering too much, sometimes because of the terrorists, sometimes because of the extremists, at other times because of gangs released from prison by Saddam Hussein who kidnap people for ransom. Then there was a shift of our Christians to Syria, despite the fact that we encouraged them to go to Iraqi Kurdistan, and there is no way to stop them. I asked His Holiness to help our Christian brothers and sisters and he promised to do so.
If I may ask, what did the Holy See ask of the president of the new Iraq?
TALABANI: He was very kind; he blessed us. He was very happy with this development of our situation and with the explanations I gave him about the new Constitution.
Your Beatitude: You have heard what President Talabani has just said. What can you tell us about the support, after the war, that the Holy See has sought to give the Chaldean Church?
EMMANUEL III DELLY: In reality, the Holy See has never ceased to intervene to bring peace to Iraq and never wanted the war. From the beginning the Holy See has asked that peace, security and tranquility may reign in Iraq and along this line there has been nothing that we have asked from the Vatican that we have not then received. But especially, when I told the Pope that Iraq is sick, he replied: «The medicine is prayer». And he continued: «I pray and do everything I can that peace may reign in Iraq, the country of Abraham».
Mister President, the Constitution has passed the scrutiny of the referendum, and soon you will have new elections for Parliament. But is that enough to define the new Iraq as a truly democratic country?
TALABANI: Well the new Parliament will be a big step forward to a new democratic Iraq. I think that for the first time there will be a balance between the representatives of the different social components in Iraq. This time there will be five seats for Christians apart from their candidates present in other lists. Also there’ll be a list of Sunni Arabs participating for the first time in such a large number and there will be, I think, new parliamentary representatives after the experiment of this year.
The Parliament of course and the Constitution represent the two principal steps towards democratization. But this is not enough. We need to practice, to achieve equality among all Iraqis and we need to render the Constitution effective by building some new, original federations in other parts of Iraq.
Your Beatitude, may I ask you with what spirit did the Chaldean Church deal with the approval of this Constitution? Because guarantee of freedom that Christians asked of the new Iraq doesn’t stand there in the text…
DELLY: All of us Iraqi bishops, Catholic and non-Catholic, have studied the Constitution and have found many good things there, but also others that cause us concern. Among these especially article 2, whose abolition or modification we have already asked, and this is the reason we have asked all those who can do something in this regard, to do so. We also thank the Vatican, which has done everything possible to continue to guarantee the freedom of every Iraqi, without distinction, and we especially thank it for the support given to the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See, who is a Christian and… must be a Christian, because he can better know those practices of the Vatican that otherwise he would not understand if he belonged to a non-Christian religion.
Therefore the Vatican is doing everything for the good of the country. I asked Mister Jalal, the President: «How is this constitution going?» and he said to me, verbatim: «Don’t be afraid, the Constitution guarantees the freedom of Christians and of the minorities in Iraq».
Mister President, the international community also asks of your country a concrete program of protection for minorities. What can you tell us about this?
TALABANI: It is our duty as a nation, our duty according to our moral principles, to protect minorities, not because the international community asks us, but in the interests of the Iraqi people. Minorities are an important part of Iraq, they play a very important role - especially Christians - in culture, in education, in the help they bring the people everywhere. The Churches were always supportive of the mass of Iraqis, Muslims, Yazidi and others. Because of that it is our sacred duty to guarantee their protection. And we will do our best. Thanks to our Constitution we now have some articles that guarantee religious freedom, the equality of all Iraqis, and we will try to achieve this by every means, especially where we can make the country safer. We will impose the rule of law and then all minorities will be respected and protected.
Your Beatitude, do you have an idea or a hope as to how Christians could finally live their political and social life in the country as a minority? In the Chaldean Church there are also those who would want a more militant and “organized” Church…
DELLY: Then I can tell you, and not because I have him here in front of me, that the President has said and guaranteed to me many times, all the times that we have met: «You are my brother, I am ready to do what you want, what Christians want. Because all Iraqis are my friends and I must take care of every one. You Christians in particular must not be afraid, I am here to help you. I am your brother, I will do everything for the good of the minorities in Iraq». The President loves all without distinction, and he also invited us to his private house and offered us a lovely meal… there were also the apostolic nuncio in Iraq, other bishops, nuns, priests. Yes, the president considers himself and feels that he is the father of all and wants to do good for all, beyond differences. This is what we think of him concretely.
Mister President, how can the Sunnites – who remain the most important minority – be involved in the government of the country?
TALABANI: I think you mean to speak of the Sunni Arabs. It’s well to remember that I too am a Sunni for example! From the beginning we tried to bring Sunni Arabs into the government. We elected a Sunni vice-president, the Speaker of the House is Sunni, the Vice Premoer is Sunni, six ministers of the Cabinet, among them the Minister of Defense and Minister of Industry are Sunnis. We encouraged them to participate in the referendum on the approval of the Constitution and they did, some of them voting ‘no’ and some ‘yes’. And now we are encouraging them to take part in the electoral process. Now we have many Sunni Arab lists that want to participate in the Parliament and, when the Sunnites are elected, they will have greater possibilities of coming into government, into the important posts, of participating in the running of the country, in drawing up the politics of Iraq.
Mister President, please allow me to continue. What is happening in Iraq can stabilize everything in the Middle East, and vice versa. There are unresolved problems in the area that directly influence the destiny of your country, first of all the Israeli-Palestinian peace process – for example, there are still Palestinian refugees in Lebanon… Not to speak of Iran.
Benedict XVI with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Novemebr 10 2005

Benedict XVI with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Novemebr 10 2005

TALABANI: First of all we are busy with rebuilding our country. We are interested in building a democratic, peace-loving Iraq and this Iraq, democratic and federal, will affect all the Middle East by giving example, not by invading other countries. This Iraq will be at peace internally and with its neighbors. We’ll try to achieve equality among all Iraqis, Muslims, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Arabs, Turkomans, Christians, to give our example to the area: for example how to respect the rights of the minorities, those of the Turkomans as well as those of all the Christians, - considering that we have different groups of Christians, - or of Kurds… I think that through this example Iraq can have an influence on the Middle East.
Also on Israel and Palestine?
TALABANI: As for the Arab Israeli difficulties, you know we are a founder member of the Arab League which is committed according to the Constitution to respect the Charter of the Arab League and the decisions or resolutions approved by the Arab League. At the last meeting of the Arab Summit in Beirut the Arab countries adopted the proposal presented by the then Prince Abdallah, who is now the Saudi King Abdallah, and according to this proposal the Arabs are asking Israel to adopt the resolutions approved by the United Nations. If Israel accepts those resolutions, approved by the United Nations, the Arab countries, including Iraq, will be ready to normalize relations with Israel, for diplomatic, economic, for all kinds of relations. Now the ball is in the Israelis’ court. And they must give an answer; if they accept this proposal, I think there will be no more difficulties nor wars between Arabs and Israelis.
As for the Palestinian refugees in the Arab countries, then, you know that I have a personal sympathy for the Palestinians, because they are a people who have suffered much. They were deported from their own country, they suffered because of Arab countries also and not just because of Israel. Overall I think the question of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is an internal problem for Lebanon, that must be solved within the framework of respecting the independence and sovereignty of that country, and the balance of all its social components. Because if they accept a greater number of Muslims the balance will inevitably undergo change. In my opinion this question can be solved gradually in the future when the Arab-Israeli dispute is resolved.
Your Beatitude, after this journey of the President to the Vatican, and being faced with the daily, harsh reality of your country, what do you truly have in your heart to say to your Chaldean faithful, including those of the diaspora?
DELLY: The only thing to do is to cooperate always with the government: that is the policy of the Chaldean Patriarchate. To respect the authorities, as Saint Paul told us, to be obedient to the civil governors who watch during the night while we sleep. We must be grateful through our fidelity to the government that protects us all. And I believe that all our Christians, as His Excellency the President knows, are loyal, because they feel loved. The president has invited them many times to go to the north of Iraq, but people cannot leave their houses, sell everything and go away, because Iraq is our land, in the same way as it is that of our Muslim brothers. We have been there for thousands of years and, as Christians, even from the beginning of Christianity. Therefore, we must collaborate with the just and legitimate government, as is the present one, we must always be faithful to it, especially to the President, who loves us and whom we love.

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