Iraq — June 2008

Sociopolitical Situation

The number of Iraqis who have died as a result of violence since the U.S.–led invasion in 2003 continues to rise. The British polling agency, Opinion Research Business, estimates that 1.2 million people have died. Unfortunately, this tremendous loss of life does not fully capture the plight of those still living in Iraq. With almost no security, violence is a daily occurrence in many parts of the country. In addition, poverty is widespread. According to Oxfam International, some four million Iraqis desperately need emergency aid. Making matters worse, few Iraqis hold decent jobs: The government puts the unemployment rate somewhere between 40 and 70 percent.

The civil conflict and economic hardships since the 2003 invasion have taken their toll on families. According to Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, the number of divorces has doubled, from 20,649 in 2003 to 41,536 in 2007. However, many believe the real number is even higher. Some extremist Muslim clerics have issued religious edicts banning marriage between Shiites and Sunnis. In certain neighborhoods, the edicts are enforced at gunpoint.

Violence against women is increasingly commonplace, aggravated by the growing influence of male-dominated militias. Since the invasion, reports of many forms of gender-related violence have multiplied, including honor killings (decapitation) for the removal of one’s veil. Reports of rape, female genital mutilation, suicide through self-immolation, the trafficking of women and girls and the arrangement of marriages for girls as young as nine years old are also increasing.

Violence has resulted in the death or disablement of many families’ breadwinners. Others cannot find work. As a result, a growing number of Iraqi children are forced to enter the workforce prematurely in order to contribute to their families’ livelihoods. It has been reported that more than 1.3 million children between the ages of 8 and 16 are now working in Iraq, representing 6.1 percent of the workforce.

Religious Situation

In January 2007, for security reasons, two major Christian institutions moved their operations from the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora to the northern Iraqi town of Ankawa: Babel College, Iraq’s only post-secondary school for Christian theology, and St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary, the Chaldean community’s principal seminary. In March, the military seized the college and seminary Baghdad campus, transforming it into an army base. Many faithful accused the Chaldean patriarchate of complying with the demands of the military to take over the campus grounds. However, the church maintains that the property was seized without notice or church consent and that the military disregarded its request that “a place of prayer and peace must not be used for military purposes.”

In late February, a group of terrorists kidnapped Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho as he was leaving his church in Mosul. Authorities found his body in a shallow grave on the outskirts of town two weeks later. Religious leaders from Iraq’s different faith communities widely condemned the murder, calling upon active civil society members on all sides to work together to prevent such violent crimes from occurring.

Iraqi authorities arrested and sentenced to death a member of Al Qaeda for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the archbishop. In light of the sentencing, Chaldean bishops publicly reiterated the church’s strong belief in forgiveness and reconciliation, emphasizing its aversion to capital punishment.

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