يحتفل الصابئة المندائيون يوم غد السبت بعيد الازدهار "دهفة هنينا" الذي يعد واحداً من أهم الاعياد الدينية الأربعة عند الطائفة المندائية.ويتوجه ابناء الطائفة منذ صباح غداً السبت الى ارض التعميد في منطقة الجادرية ببغداد ودور العبادة الاخرى في المحافظات ودول العالم قرب ضفاف الانهر لاداء طقوس التعميد وطعام الغفران على المتوفين فضلا عن لقاء الاهل والاصدقاء وتبادل التهاني بالمناسبة.يعود سبب الاحتفال بهذا اليوم كما في الديانة الصابئية الى تقييد الشر واعمال الشياطين الذين يعيثون في الارض فسادا ودمارا من قبل الملاك جبريل الرسول بامر من الحي العظيم (مبارك اسمه ) وبامره ايضا شقت الانهار وزرعت النباتات وهيأت الارض من كل شيء لاجل خلق آدم وحواء.ولهذا المناسبة ايضا تقليد اجتماعي متوارث للصابئة المندائيين حيث تقيم كل عائلة مندائية منذ الصباح وجبة طعام مكونة من الرز واللبن (الروب) والرمان والتمر وهي من طيبات الارض،كما يطلق على هذا العيد عاميا عيد( ابو الروب).ويحتفل الصابئة المندائيون في جميع انحاء العالم سنويا بأربعة اعياد ومناسبات دينية رئيسية هي الدهفة ربا (العيد الكبير) والدهفة هنينا (عيد الازدهار) والبنجة (عيد الخليقة) والدهفة ديمانه (يوم التعميد الذهبي) فضلا عن الاحتفال بثلاث مناسبات أخرى لا تقل أهمية عن الأعياد الرئيسة هي مناسبتا ابو الفل وابو الهريس وعيد شوشيان.
يحتفل الصابئة المندائيون في العراق غدا الأحد بعيد الدهفا ديمانا، وهو من طقوس الطائفة لإحياء يوم التعميد الذهبي بمناسبة ميلاد النبي يحيى.
يستعد ممثلو الأقليات الدينية في مجلس النواب لعقد اجتماع يهدف إلى بلورة قانون يحفظ حقوقهم في ممارسة حرياتهم والعمل على إلغاء قرار مجلس قيادة الثورة المنحل رقم 82 لسنة 94 ، وفق ما أعلن النائب الايزيدي فرحان أمين ججو، اليوم الخميس.
وأوضح ججو في تصريح صحفي أن "القانون سيطالب بإلغاء قرار مجلس قيادة الثورة المنحل رقم 82 لسنة 94 الذي يمنح المحافظين الصلاحية بإغلاق الملاهي وصالات الرقص والنوادي الليلية ومنح إجازات بيع الكحول لطوائف غير مسلمة، فضلاً عن إصدار قانون آخر يحفظ حقوق المسلمين والديانات الأخرى غير المسلمة على حد سواء."
واعتبر ججو أن "إغلاق محلات بيع المشروبات الكحولية والنوادي الليلة أمر إيجابي إذا كان يهدف إلى وضع ضوابط جديدة تراعي المكونات الشعب الأخرى التي يسمح في دياناتها تناول هذه المشروبات".
“The man who wore the chain with the cross deserved to be killed. He was a spy for the Americans and they taught him to leave his religion.”
“He could not bear the shame of his father’s conversion.”
“Killing a man is a sin and killing one’s father is an even bigger sin. Let God judge such a person who converts. Why should we act as Gods”.
“The tribe could expel such a man – but why should he be killed? And by his son? It’s horrible!”
The murder of a former interpreter for the United States military who allegedly abandoned his Muslim faith has revealed the strain facing Iraq’s fragile laws, where a respect for Islamic creed can conflict with a duty to protect human rights.
Hameed al-Daraji was shot dead on Wednesday, June 14, in the Sunni Arab city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. According to security officials, his son confessed in custody that he had killed his father over his conversion to Christianity.
Another son and a nephew are wanted over the attack. All three men are suspected of links to a domestic insurgent group allied to al-Qaeda.
Hostility towards converts is widespread in Iraq, as in much of the Muslim world. While the country’s laws guarantee the rights of its sizeable religious minorities, they also yield to Islam as an ultimate authority.
Many Iraqis – including residents of Samarra and Baghdad and senior clerics from the Sunni and Shia sects – said the former interpreter deserved to be killed in accordance with strict Islamic rules against conversion.
Some said they approved of the motive behind the murder, but felt it ought to have been carried out by the man’s tribe, rather than his son.
Several religious and political leaders said they could not condemn the killing of converts as it was sanctioned by Islamic scripture.
However, a significant minority of Iraqis – including a Christian lawmaker – said they were appalled by the crime.
Iraq’s laws have strict penalties for murder and make no allowances for the killing of converts from Islam.
However, the constitution describes Islam as a fundamental source of legislation, and adds that no law may be passed that contradicts the principles of Islam, or democracy.
IWPR reporters could not reach any members of the dead man’s family for comment.
The son accused of the crime has yet to face trial and, despite his reported confession, is presumed to be innocent unless proven otherwise.
Though a verdict in the case may be some way off, the issues it raises reflect the grave challenges confronting the country’s battered legal system.
While conversions from Islam are rare in Iraq, the reaction to the Samarra killing illustrates the difficulty of balancing ancient articles of Islamic faith against a democratic obligation to guard religious minorities.
LACK OF LEGAL CLARITY
Legal experts interviewed by IWPR said judges were free to reflect religious beliefs in their rulings.
Ahmed al-Abbasi, a judge and a senior ministry of justice official, said religious teachings were followed where the law offered no guidance.
“There is no law to deal with a convert, so in such cases we have to go to the Islamic rules, because Islam is the main source of legislation,” he said.
He conceded that the lack of clarity in the legal system concerning conversions could be problematic.
“I don’t know how we deal with such cases, given the new democracy and the absence of relevant laws,” he said.
Another expert argued that lighter sentences may be awarded for crimes that were driven by Islamic doctrine.
“In Iraqi life, we have a religious verdict and a legal verdict,” said Dhiya al-Saadi, a former head of the union of Iraqi lawyers.
“The two may not match each other – but the religious verdict can be seen as a mitigating factor when the judge looks at the motive.”
Daraji’s killers could have had a range of motives. Samarra is a stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency, which regards Iraqis who have worked with the US military as traitors.
Initial reports by news agencies, quoting police officials, had indicated Daraji was killed on the orders of insurgents because of his ties to American forces. He had worked as an interpreter with the US military periodically since 2003.
However, security officials and several residents of Samarra told IWPR Daraji was killed because he had recently converted to Christianity.
While the hardline ideology of many insurgents is broadly hostile to Christians, animosity towards converts from Islam, known as murtads or religious renegades, is far more widespread across the Muslim world.
A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press, said Daraji’s son had confessed he killed his father because of social pressure.
“He could not bear the shame of his father’s conversion,” the officer said.
Sheikh Talal Hamdan, a local leader of the Sahwa militia, which fought against al-Qaeda, confirmed the account, adding that Daraji had received threats from his nephew over his religious conversion.
“It seems the whole tribe agreed on the man’s killing,” said Hamdan, who is involved in the inquiry into the crime.
Those who adopt Christianity would be especially vulnerable in Iraq, where the conflict with US forces was portrayed by insurgents as a holy war against a crusading Christian army. Cases of such conversions are almost unheard of, except in the relatively stable Kurdistan region.
“I saw [Daraaji] wearing a chain with a cross on it, which is forbidden in Islam,” said Alaa Dakheel, a farmer and neighbour of the dead man. “It is a religious duty to kill infidels.”
Thabit Salah, a barber in his thirties, said no one blamed the son for the murder.
“The man who wore the chain with the cross deserved to be killed,” he said. “He was a spy for the Americans and they taught him to leave his religion.”
Sarab Emad, a grocery store owner in Samarra, said he agreed with the killing of a murtad. However, he said, “he should have been killed by his tribe, not his son”.
“Even the Prophet Abraham did not kill his father, who was an infidel,” he said.
Iraqi religious and political leaders of both sects agreed that the killing of converts was sanctioned by Islam.
“It is every Muslim’s duty to kill the murtad,” said Sheikh Mohammed al-Ghreri, a Sunni cleric based in al-Ali al-Adhim mosque in southern Baghdad’s Zafraniyah neighbourhood.
A senior Shia cleric who did not wish to be identified by the press confirmed to IWPR that the Prophet Mohammed had said those who changed their faith ought to be killed.
Authorities from both sects said converts may be killed after following a series of steps, overseen by a religious authority. The steps included warning converts of the consequences of their actions and offering them the chance, within a limited period, to revert to Islam.
“The murtad should be killed – there is no mercy in such matters,” said a Sunni religious leader, asking not to be named. “But the man who carries out the killing should be authorised by a senior cleric.”
FEARS FOR MINORITIES
An Iraqi Christian lawmaker said he was saddened by the crime in Samarra, which went to the heart of a conflict in the judicial system.
“This is a contradiction in the Iraqi constitution,” said Emad Yohanna, from the Rafidain list. “One of its main sources is Islam, which imposes the duty to kill a murtad.”
“At the same time, the constitution is obliged to protect human rights and religious freedom. It really is a mess.”
A former Yezedi member of parliament agreed. "In Iraq we have two laws: Islamic laws and human rights laws. The constitution states that both should be taken into consideration, but sometimes it is not possible to apply both, and in such a case, in Iraq, Islamic laws win," he said.
Yohanna said the constitution needed to be amended in order to protect the rights of converts.
“I respect Islam but I also believe it’s fine for someone to choose their own religion,” he said.
Although many Iraqis said they understood the motives behind the killing of converts, a few said they were appalled by the murder in Samarra.
“Killing a man is a sin and killing one’s father is an even bigger sin,” said Sami, a man in his twenties shopping at a music store in the central Arasat district. “Let God judge such a person who converts. Why should we act as Gods?”
Waddah, an engineer from Baghdad in his twenties and a devout Muslim, said he felt Islam did not allow the killing of those who had converted out of a genuine belief.
“Islam is very clear about freedom of religion,” he said. “I think those who support such killings have been misled by powerful political and religious figures.”
Hanan, a Christian woman studying at a medical college in the capital, said the crime defied belief.
“The tribe could expel such a man – but why should he be killed? And by his son? It’s horrible!” she said.
Most of Iraq’s judicial codes have yet to be updated since the days of the largely secular government of former leader Saddam Hussein.
In areas of ambiguity, judges are expected to seek guidance from the constitution, formulated after the US-led invasion in 2003. While the constitution says religion is a private matter beyond the remit of the state, it also describes Islam as a supreme authority in jurisprudence.
The law seems particularly stretched when dealing with a bureaucratic necessity that would follow any religious conversion – the alteration of personal details on identity cards.
Identity cards carried by all Iraqis list the owners’ religion, though not their sect. In theory, people who change their faith can apply to court for their identity cards to be amended.
However, according to Saadi, the former head of the Iraqi lawyers’ union, anyone who converted from Islam could have their appeal rejected by the court.
Under the constitution, the law must reflect Islamic doctrine, which regards such conversions as an offence.
“In such cases, the judge would rule against the convert,” he said. “It’s a complicated situation. In this respect, the Iraqi constitution does not agree with human rights.”
Saadi said the murderer of the interpreter in Samarra would not escape punishment. “A killer is a killer,” he said.
“But the period of jailing is up to the judge, who will look at the circumstances of the case.”
Tarik Harb, a legal expert with strong ties to the government, said the minimum jail sentence for murder was five years’ imprisonment and the maximum was 15 years. The death penalty was applied for crimes where imprisonment was deemed inadequate.
Harb also argued that religious approval for the killing of a convert was not universal.
“There are many clerics who believe there is no sanction for such a murder, as God will punish the murtad,” he said.
Saadi acknowledged that Islam endorsed the killing of a murtad but argued that it would not always be easy to prove that a dead person had been a convert.
Both Saadi and Harb said the judge in the Samarra case might be inclined to give a relatively short sentence for murder if it were proven that the victim’s conversion had provoked the crime.
However, Abbasi, the justice ministry official, said he did not believe the killer in the Samarra case would be shown any leniency.
Yohanna, the Christian legislator, warned that a relatively mild sentence in the Samarra case might encourage more attacks on converts.
Several people interviewed by IWPR in Baghdad said they broadly understood the motive behind the crime.
“The murtad should be killed, according to Islam,” said a teacher in his fifties who gave his name as Abu Ridha.
“I would not kill him myself,” he added, “because I would rather be sinful in the eyes of God than become a killer.”
Alaa Sadiq, a municipal employee in Baghdad’s Sadr city neighbourhood, said a murtad was “more sinful than an infidel because he left the right path, having known it”.
However, he said, killing such a person ought to be the responsibility of the tribe rather than a son. “Why should a son do it, when there are others who can do so?” he said.
Sabree Ala, a shop-owner in the capital’s Karrada district, said each man was free to choose his faith but it was forbidden to switch between faiths, “If [the dead man] was Christian from the beginning, it would be okay. But conversion is a sin.”
He added that he would personally avoid any dealings with such a person, but would stop short of killing him.
A series of attacks on the pacifist Mandaean community has prompted the religion’s lone parliamentarian to demand a government watchdog be formed to protect Iraq’s threatened minority groups.
Lawmaker Khalid Amin Rumi, who believes the attacks are sectarian, rather than criminal, is proposing a government council be set up to ensure that crimes against small religious groups are properly investigated and prosecuted.
So far, officials appear to be somewhat divided about the idea, which was drawn up by the Mandaean Elders’ Council, and Rumi is now looking for support from allies among Iraq’s diverse minority communities.
“These attacks are a wake-up call for us. There is a big plot against religious minorities in Iraq by Islamic extremist groups, but the government is pre-occupied with many issues. It has not given enough attention to this issue despite our repeated warnings and appeals,” Rumi said.
Rumi’s call to action was prompted by a pattern of attacks on Mandaean merchants that he claims has been escalating since the United States-led invasion of 2003. In recent years, community leaders have complained of rampant discrimination and crimes including robberies, rapes, beatings, murders and forced conversions.
“We live in constant fear. We are afraid of our children being killed or kidnapped every day. We are lost in the chaos that has affected the country’s security and politics. We want to stay in our country because we are proud to belong here. But the truth is we don’t know what the future holds for us,” said Salma Yahya Mamounn, a 42-year-old Mandaean who works as a civil servant in Baghdad.
Of the estimated 60,000 Mandaeans living in Iraq before the war, the community is now said to have roughly 20,000 followers, mostly in Baghdad, Basra and Amara. Other estimates are as low as 5,000.
Armed men killed two Mandaean jewelers and wounded a third on June 9 in Basra. In May, two carloads of gunmen murdered two jewelers and wounded four others on Street 20 in Baghdad’s Baya district.
The neighbourhood is famous for its gold and jewelry shops, most of which have been owned by Mandaeans for many generations.
Baghdadsecurity spokesman Major General Qassim Atta said the motive for the recent killings was theft, and noted that Muslims were also killed in both attacks. Atta confirmed that a woman and three men have been arrested for the Baya shootings; several other assailants were killed in a subsequent gunfight; and a manhunt is underway for the rest of what he called a “gang” of gold thieves.
“Most segments of Iraqi society have been exposed to violence from al-Qaeda and the militias. The security forces work in accordance with the constitution which guarantees the right to live safely for all Iraqis regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. We provide protection to the Sabeans (the Arab word for Mandaeans) just as we do for the rest of the minorities, including Christians,” Atta said.
Mandaean leaders have criticised police investigations into the recent murders, claiming they were sectarian. Witnesses told IWPR that no gold or jewelry was touched in either of the attacks and some have charged security forces of complicity in the attack in Baghdad – an allegation the government denied.
Mandaean spokesman Raed Hasson Baqal insists there have been dozens of attacks on Mandaeans and Mandean-owned businesses in 2010.
“Gangs and militias target our community because they think we are weak. They accuse us of blasphemy. A large number of people from our religion have been killed and this has forced many of us to flee to other countries for safety,” said Baqal, who noted that Mandaeanism forbids the use of weapons, even for self-defence.
The Mandaeans, who speak Mandaic, originated in the southern marshland of present-day Iraq and Iran. Scholars say the monotheistic religion is at least 2,000 years old and is the only surviving Gnostic faith. The sacred symbol is a cross draped in a white cloth and adorned with olive branches, and its most-venerated leader is John the Baptist.
Since 2003, many minority groups have suffered discrimination and been targeted by radical Islamic groups. According to Rumi’s proposal, which was made public on June 17, the putative council would monitor investigations into attacks against minorities and ensure the assailants are properly prosecuted.
As things stands, Rumi says his proposal is being considered by the Christian and Other Religions Endowment Bureau – a government body, established in 2003 to supervise the affairs of Christians and other non-Islamic groups -and he aims to seek support from other minority leaders and international rights bodies for his campaign.
But some government figures and parliamentarians have expressed opposition to the move.
Senior interior ministry official Adnan al-Asadi told IWPR, “I think there is no need to establish a council that oversees the protection of the minorities because the government is taking care of these minorities. The ministry of interior is responsible for providing protection to all Iraqis without discrimination.”
Member of the parliamentary security and defence committee Abbas al-Bayatisaid the proposed council was “an explicit violation of the constitution, which stipulates that all Iraqisare equal in rights and duties and it is the responsibility of the Iraqi security forcesto protect all Iraqis”.
There has also been a mixed reaction from other religious communities.
Ghassan Elias, head of the Chaldean Christian Culture Society in Mosul, said, “We do not need to form new committees or boards. This means more fragmentation for our leadership. If such a council gets involved in the affairs of small religious communities our councils will lose power. We need to increase the role of minorities in decision-making.”
However, Durman Khtari, a Yezidi member of the Nineveh provincial council, welcomed the move. "With hope, the objective of this proposed council is to find out who conducts these attacks against minorities and making sure there is no negligence in the investigations,” he said.
Ali Kareem is an IWPR-trained journalist in Baghdad.
وصف ممثل طائفة الصابئة المندائية في البصرة التحقيقات التي أُجريت مع متورطين بجرائم تصفية لأبناء الطائفة في المدينة بالوهمية وغير الجادة، منتقداً التلكؤ في عمليات اعادة إعمار معابد الطائفة لأسباب طائفية. وقال الناطق بإسم مجلس شؤون الصابئة المندائيين في البصرة لؤي الخميسي للحياة ان التصفيات بحق أبناء الطائفة لم تتوقف كونهم أقلية غير ممثلة في الحكومات العراقية المتعاقبة فضلاً عن ان غالبيتهم يمتهنون تجارة الذهب، ما يشكل إغراء للمجاميع المسلحة.
وأوضح ان مصادر تمويل العصابات بدأت تجف، كما صرحت بذلك القيادات الأمنية في المحافظة، ما حفز تلك المجموعات على البحث عن مصادر تمويل أخرى كالسطو على محال الذهب أو الصيرفة، وهو أمر أصبح رائجاً خلال الشهور الماضية.
ولفت إلى ان الأجهزة الأمنية لا تبلغهم بمجريات التحقيق مع المتهمين ولا تطلعهم على نتائجه، معرباً عن خشية من وجود غطاء سياسي لهذا الموضوع.
The article I have chosen to discuss comes from the UN News centre. It has the very boring sounding title of "UN brings religious, ethnic communities to the discussion table in northern Iraq" but in fact this is a genuinely exciting development. The situation in Ninawa, especially in Mosul, and in the Nineveh plain is complex, violent, and very discouraging. Briefly put there are two nationalisms Arab and Kurdish contending for control, each side suffers but who suffers particularly badly are ethnic minorities caught in the crossfire such as the Yezhidi and Shabaki, and religious minorities such as the Christians. The Christians have suffered especially badly. A lot of very hard and often dangerous "sherpa" work has gone into producing a situation where representatives of every community and body met in Tal Kaif last Thursday.
This hard and often dangerous work has been done by local community leaders, polticians, academics, some foreigners who know and love the city, Red Crescent people, and many many members of local human rights bodies. (The UN got involved relatively late on into the process and became involved only when they were sure that their participation would provide momentum). Getting to this point where people met and discussed in a group how to move forward and bring peace to a part of Irak that desperately needs was desperately slow, delicate, and wearing. And will remain so. And yet, and yet, and yet, despite all the mistrust and all the fear and all the setbacks there is now just the tiniest glimmer of hope in Mosul.
Security concerns and human rights topped a United Nations-backed discussion among the religious and ethnic communities of the northern Iraqi governorate of Ninewa.
Participants at the meeting which took place on 27 May included representatives of the Christian, Shabak, Turkoman and Yazidi communities, as well of the Ninewa administration, the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi Government.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) chaired the talks – the first-ever meeting of the Committee on Ethnic and Religious Communities in Ninewa – in the city of Tilkaef.
Also among the topics discussed during the gathering where the representation of Ninewa’s various communities in Iraq’s security forces.
The UNAMI meeting marked an important first step for further dialogue and action, said Jerzy Skuratowicz, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative. “While each of the components has its unique and distinct ethnic, cultural and religious heritage that must be preserved, it is also apparent that they all share many common concerns, which need to be addressed.”
Source: UN News Centre | UN brings religious, ethnic communities to the discussion table in northern Iraq
Seven years after the US invasion of Iraq, violence is still taking the lives of countless Iraqis. Amnesty International’s new report Iraq, Civilians Under Fire exposes the ongoing violence inflicted on minority groups including women, gay men, religious minorities, and human rights activists, journalists and refugees.
Kidnapping, torture and murder are used by militias, terrorist organizations and occasionally the government itself, often with impunity.
Women who are abused are not safe even in the few shelters that exist. Honor killings are rampant and those who perform them are not punished. Forced marriages, forced veiling and rape are common across the country.
Gay men have been living in fear since political and religious leaders started issuing fatwas against them. In Sadr City and Baghdad gay men and men perceived to be gay were kidnapped, tortured and killed in large numbers.
Christian, Yazidi, Sabean-Mandean and other religious communities have been harrassed and brutalized since 2003, their places of worship bombed, their religious leaders systematically killed. Individuals are stopped on the streets by groups of armed men and asked for their identification cards, which indicate their religion. If they belong to the “wrong” religious group, they are shot.
Human rights activists in Iraq who try to protect abused women, gay men or religious minorities are threatened and killed by the same militias, many of which are affiliated with members of the Iraqi parliament. Journalists who speak out against the corruption in the government which has allowed the continued arming of these militias have also been threatened and killed.
With around 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis, 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries that threaten to send them back, 12,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq and 4,300 Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf, the situation in Iraq is dire.
In the coming weeks Amnesty International will launch actions addressing each of these issues. As a new Iraqi government takes shape in the next months, it’s vital that we let them know that the world is watching and expecting them to take responsibility for the safety and security of all of Iraq’s civilians, regardless of religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation or belief.
London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Since the change of the Iraqi regime in 2003, four governments have succeeded each other in administering Iraq ranging between the government of Paul Bremer, US civil Administrator, and interim, and permanent governments. The Kurdish politician Hoshyar Zebari – leading member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP] led by Masud Barzani -has been a foreign minister in all these governments. In fact he was the first foreign minister after the end of the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and he still is while the prime ministers and other ministers have been changed.
On the basis of this, Zebari has shouldered all the burdens, difficulties, and complications of the new construction of one of the most important ministries of the government, the Foreign Ministry, and he has become the most prominent engineer of the Iraqi foreign policy. Perhaps one of the most complex issues is being the first Iraqi foreign minister from the Kurdish nation, which constitutes the second national group in Iraq, and all these years he has had to sit down and confer with his Arab opposite numbers, who, according to his expression, have forged distinguished links with him.
During his private visit to London, Zebari gave Asharq Al-Awsat exclusively an expanded and comprehensive interview about his work experience at the Foreign Ministry in which he explains the difficulties facing the Iraqi foreign policy. Today, Zebari is on the verge of leaving his post as the term of the government ends, and he is a member of the upcoming Iraqi Parliament for the Kurdistan Alliance, and of the committee stemming from the alliance for dialog with the other political blocs about the formation of the new government.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At the end of the term of the Government, what is your assessment of Iraqi foreign policy?
[Zebari] I am greatly honored to have served in this post in four consecutive governments. This is a record achieved under the most difficult circumstances through which Iraq has gone. I take pride in my service during this period in which we have tried to serve our country. Our record testifies to the achievements and accomplishments we have made. The state was in ruins when we took over in September 2003 during the period of the Government Council; and the Foreign Ministry consisted of some isolated, besieged, burned, and ruined embassies. Thus, praise be to God, we have been able, through collective efforts and not individual ones, to rebuild and restore the ministry. This has been achieved as a result of us working on the basis of the principle of national reconciliation.
We have been the first ministry to apply this principle. When we took over the ministry it included 1,200 employees ranging between diplomats and administrative officials, and supplemented them from among former members of the intelligence and the Baathists. We have dismissed more than 550 employees, because the Foreign Ministry under the previous regime was one of the security ministries, and was a closed shop for the Baath Party. We have kept the professional diplomats and administrators, and in practice they have proved their high level of efficiency and national sense. This is why we have been accused, while our aim was, and still is, to keep the wheel of work turning.
It is true that when we took over the ministry we had the experience of working abroad, and of the foreign relations of the KDP, but the partisan work, or work in the opposition remains different from official work, the ministry, and work in the state. However, we utilized our previous relations for the benefit of our work in the Foreign Ministry.
Moreover, we opened the work in the Foreign Ministry for all, and not only for the elite, the sons of the wealthy or upper-class families, and officials. Two years after we started work, we advertised in the media a training course for diplomatic work, and any Iraqi who satisfied the conditions was able to work in the ministry. We have accepted the highest grade graduates of the Iraqi universities. Also the issue in which I personally take pride is our interest in training and qualifying the cadres of diplomatic work.
Moreover, the number of the employees of our ministry is the lowest among the Iraqi ministries compared to its services and importance, as there are less than 2,000 diplomats and administrators in the Foreign Ministry, which is a very small number. We have sent most of them, more then 1,200 employees, to training courses in diplomatic and language training abroad, which is something that is admired by our Arab counterparts. We also changed the culture of work in the Ministry, which used to be characterized by domination, militarism, and centralization, and the employee used to stand before the official as if he was his servant or slave; we have removed all these barriers. I am entitled to take pride in this issue.
It is well known that Iraq is a big and old country in international politics. It is one of the founders of the United Nations, the Arab League, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Thus, we have decided to make the diplomatic representation extensive, or at least acceptable; now there are more than 83 diplomatic missions around the world, 67 embassies, and 16 consulates. Therefore, I can say that the upcoming Iraqi Government will take over a developed institution. Add to this that we have ratified the Foreign Service law, which is at the level of the international laws in this field.
Despite all the suspicions and distortion that accompanied the work of the ministry, such as claiming that it is a Kurdish ministry and similar things, I do not say that our ministry is an ideal one that is devoid of administrative or financial corruption, but I say that compared to other ministries, the Foreign Ministry is one of the cleanest and most impartial ministries from the point of view of the good reports of the auditing departments and the Commission on Public Integrity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are accusations leveled at Iraqi foreign policy because of the bad relations between Iraq and some regional countries?
[Zebari] Iraq was isolated, punished, and marginalized in all Arab and international forums. However, with great efforts we have been able to restore it to its important status, and we broke the isolation ring. To be frank and explicit, this has not taken place only as a result of our efforts, but also with the help and support of our allies in the US and UK Administrations, which liberated Iraq from dictatorship.
The work of the Foreign Ministry is a reflection of the domestic policy of the country and its stances; if there is no united stance or a united domestic policy coupled with strong will, there will be no success in the foreign policy however relentless the efforts might be, because the foreign policy will reflect what is taking place domestically. [The same applies] if there is reconstruction, the security situation is solid, the economic situation is good, and the national unity is strong.
I admit that one of the problems in which we failed is that we have not been able to play any role in the Arab forums. We have not been able to fulfill our commitments to the issues of destiny, such as the Palestinian issue, supporting the Palestinian Authority, or supporting the regional or international issues to which Iraq was contributing. We have inherited a huge legacy of international sanctions, effects of siege, fragile relations, and problems of water and borders with nearly all the neighboring countries. This is what we have been focusing on, and that is what any government ought to focus on, try to close all these dossiers, and rectify its relations.
In the midst of this hysterical and difficult political situation, we have been able to progress with our work, and to reflect a positive image of the situation and work of the government. The Foreign Ministry does not make the policy, but it implements it; our policy exists in the Constitution, and in the government decisions and viewpoint, because the government is the one that determines Iraq’s foreign policy. One of the problems which we faced at the level of our foreign operations is the multiplicity of the sources of media statements and stances given by MP’s, advisers, and others. In many cases we receive instructions, but we act according to the interest of the country; thus we have adopted some stances that the others understood.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was your stance at the last Arab summit in Libya one of these policies?
[Zebari] At the last summit, and other summits, we acted according to our relations, and as representatives of the Iraqi Government. The other sides relied on what we said and not on the statement of this MP, or that adviser or politician.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do the Arab officials receive you as a Kurd in your capacity as foreign minister of Iraq?
[Zebari] In the beginning it was a surprise and a strange and odd thing. I remember that I attended my first meeting of Arab foreign ministers in the Arab League in September 2003. The Arab foreign ministers, in jest, said: Let us have fun at his (broken) Arabic. After I talked and delivered speeches, they said: We were wrong, because your Arabic is better than ours. This is a real experience. We behave as a national Iraqi official, and not as a Kurd, and we defend Iraq and the interests of Iraq. Now they have got used to us. At the Arab summit in Sirte (Libya) they said: We have become used to you. I said: This is politics, and we have a diplomatic system; today I am here, and tomorrow there is someone else. I have had excellent relations with my Arab counterparts, and achieved good relations with the Arab officials and leaders, and with the Arab League.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you explain the delay of some Arab countries in opening their embassies in Baghdad?
[Zebari] The fact is this subject has been exaggerated, and politicized by some Iraqi political sides. They say that Iraq is distant from its Arab and Islamic environment; this is political one-upmanship. When an Iraqi politician meets an Arab leader, does this mean that he is close to that leader and we cannot do the same? For instance, I can meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak or any other Arab official any day. We tolerate the fact that Iraqi politicians meet Arab leaders outside the government framework; have we had a strong government, it would not have allowed to hold such meetings. This is not supposed to occur. I remember once that the leader of the British Conservative Party met Clinton or Bush in Washington, and there was a commotion that raised Cain in London, because it was considered defiance. Unfortunately, our leaders or politicians are complacent about this issue, and hence they lose their value.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you explain the bad relations between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and some Arab countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, and others?
[Zebari] The prime minister is not responsible for these stances. Perhaps I have many issues related to work over which I disagree with the prime minister, but over this issue we have to be realistic. If there is a country or a side that wants to harm Iraq, we must not kiss their hands; this is inadmissible. Today, for instance, there are public activities by Muhammad Yunus al-Ahmad – leading member of the Iraqi Baath Party – in Damascus. We have asked the Syrians about him, and we told them that he was active against Iraq; they said: We do not know him at all. Now, here he is. What is his program or aims? Are his programs and aims related to participating in government, or developing the political process in Iraq? Definitely not, because he (Al-Ahmad) wants to destroy and blow up everything. There are some issues on which we have to draw the line. For instance, with regard to the relations with Saudi Arabia, the Saudi brethren are the ones who opened the doors, and they opened up to receive various Iraqi leaders, and are the ones who became convinced that there ought to be good relations with Iraq, with which they have the longest common borders; the initiative came from them. The Egyptians, after they realized that they were absent and that the non-Arab neighboring countries were the ones that would fill the vacuum, woke up and came and opened their embassy in Baghdad.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have Iran and Turkey filled in the vacuum resulting from the Arab absence in Iraq?
[Zebari] I have visited Tehran, Ankara, and even Damascus, and I have said to them beware, and do not think that you will fill in the vacuum that will occur due to the withdrawal of the US forces. The Iraqis will not accept anyone other then themselves to fill in the vacuum in their country. We have the legitimate right to do so. Iran, Turkey, and others are waiting for the withdrawal of the US forces, which are in a hurry to leave Iraq in August, to fill in the vacuum; this is a huge disaster.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think of the Kuwaiti claims over the airplane hired by the Iraqi Airways, which they tried to detain in Britain? How will you deal with the problems with Kuwait?
[Zebari] Let me tell you something, several times we have discussed the pending relations with the Kuwaiti brethren. At Sirte summit, we sat with the Amir, deputy prime minister, and foreign minister of Kuwait. There are pending problems between Kuwait and Iraq, and they ought to be resolved. The most prominent of these problems is the issue of the borders that have been demarcated according to UN Security Council Resolution 833, the recognition of which the constitutional Iraqi Government is supposed to reiterate. As for the rest of the issues, they are treatable. These borders have been imposed on Iraq following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does Iraq recognize these borders?
[Zebari] Saddam Hussein agreed to them in 1993. What is required of this government or the upcoming government is to reiterate its recognition of these borders. This is the key to the resolution of all the pending problems between Iraq and Kuwait. I say it frankly, neither the issue of the missing, the prisoners, nor the properties are the obstacles; this issue (the borders) still is pending. We have tried, and we have exerted huge efforts to resolve it; however, we have become convinced that it is a political and not a technical issue. The government has said, now we are on the verge of elections and we will leave this dossier to the upcoming government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have spoken of the professionalism of the Iraqi ambassadors, but the issue of the ambassadors constitutes a subject for the accusations leveled at the Foreign Ministry, as there are ambassadors who have been appointed at the level of extraordinary ambassador without any diplomatic background. How do you explain this?
[Zebari] The ambassador is supposed to be a professional diplomat who has progressed in his diplomatic career until he reaches the grade of ambassador. However, in many countries there are political appointments, i.e. the government or the head of state chooses a former minister, military officer, or a friend as (former US President) Bush or (US President) Obama did. If you look into the background of some US ambassadors you will discover that they are friends of the president. However this happens within certain percentage such as 10 percent or more, and could be as much as 25 percent. The highest percentage of such appointments, as far as we know, is in Egypt. Also we have fixed a percentage of such appointment in the Foreign Service Law, which has been ratified by Parliament and government. However, we are in an interim stage, and all the political sides want to be represented in the diplomatic corpse.
I would like to explain the mechanism we used. We have accepted 57 ambassadors out of 150 nominated by the various political blocs; and we have said to all the blocs that we would not accept anyone who does not satisfy even the minimum of the conditions set by our ministry. This is what has taken place, and it was my decision. Among those accepted there have been a large percentage of professional diplomats, and also there have been ambassadors nominated by sides not participating in the government, such as the former Al-Iraqiya List, national and religious minorities, and also women. The process has not taken place on the basis of quotas alone, but we also took into consideration the diversity of the Iraqi society in addition to those who have been nominated by sides in the government. Moreover, the deliberations and the discussions of the names between the ministry and the Parliament continued for two years until the list of names was given back to us; during that period we sent the candidates to training courses, and attached them to work within the departments of the ministry. After that came the difficult stage, even the most complex one, namely the organization and distribution of the ambassadors. This is a more complex process than forming the government. We were obliged to meet the political leaders and explain to them that the standard of the ambassador nominated by them is not suitable to be appointed to this-or-that country, but he has to be appointed to another country, and so on.
There have been many opinions saying that we should not send the names to the countries until after the elections, but I insisted on sending them before the elections. I said: I will send them and you will see the confidence of the countries in us. Indeed, we sent the names of the ambassadors to the countries to which they were nominated. This is an achievement that ought to be recorded for the government and for our ministry. Ten days ago, we received 43 approvals out of 52 nominations to Arab and western countries, and to international organizations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why is the Foreign Ministry accused of being a Kurdish ministry?
[Zebari] This is not true. If you count the number of Kurds among the administrators and diplomats in the Foreign Ministry you will realize that it is very small, and less than the percentage they deserve. The Kurds are Iraqis, and have the right to work in the diplomatic corps. Moreover, I am not promoting the Kurdish interests, but I promote the Iraqi interests, and the Kurds come within this context.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Iraqi embassy in London has been, and still is without an ambassador. What are the reasons behind this?
[Zebari] Indeed this is a problem. However, there is an ambassador who is a candidate for this post, but I cannot divulge his name now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you remain the foreign minister in the upcoming government?
[Zebari] I belong to the Kurdistan Alliance, and this issue is up to the alliance and not to me. When I served as a foreign minister, I was nominated by the Kurdistan Alliance. I am one of the people who consider themselves soldiers in the service of the leadership; this means that today we serve in this post, and tomorrow in another one that is chosen for us by the leadership. This is the first factor. Secondly, this depends of whether or not the Kurdistan Alliance will participate in the government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there any doubt that you will participate in the upcoming government?
[Zebari] It is possible to forge coalitions that will be able to form the government with no need for the Kurdistan Alliance, and it is possible to include some Kurds from outside the alliance in the upcoming government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that such a possibility might take place?
[Zebari] Theoretically, it is possible. The Kurdistan Alliance was strong in the previous elections, and it constituted the second parliamentary bloc. Today, it is the fourth list. However, politically and realistically I do not think that such a possibility might materialize, and all the other blocs agree on the importance of our participation in government. If the negotiations to form the government take place, one of the sovereignty ministries will be in our share. In the past, the choice and agreement was the Foreign Ministry because of the accumulation of expertise and other factors; today, as I said, this is not up to me, but to our leadership.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the decision is up to you, will you stay at the Foreign Ministry?
[Zebari] I can serve at this ministry, because we have accumulated developed experiences, and we have established good relations with our Arab and non-Arab counterparts. However, I reiterate that the political decision is not up to me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As long as we are talking about the formation of the government, what do you think of the existing dispute on the political arena over this issue, I mean the formation of the new government?
[Zebari] The disputes are very severe, and the situation has become extremely complicated for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that the results are close between the two major blocs, the Al-Iraqiya (led by Iyad Allawi, former prime minister of the Iraqi Government) and the State of Law (led by Nuri al-Maliki, prime minister of the government whose term has ended). In the previous election there was one bloc that won the majority of the seats and formed the government. As for the current situation, the events will lead to prolonged and complicated negotiations; no serious alliances or dialogs will take place until the ratification of the results of the elections. You know that there are the manual recounting, the looking into the issue of the excluded because of the Debathification commission, and other issues; the longer the period, the more complications will appear.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would you have preferred the results to be ratified without the issuing of the decision to have a manual recount?
[Zebari] The problem lies in the electoral system. The (Independent High Electoral) Commission has done its utmost to make the elections succeed, but there are frightening shortcomings in its work, and it has not taken into consideration many issues. Moreover, there is the absence of the support and help from the United States and Britain that had a clear role in the previous elections; this role has been absent in these elections, which contributed to the increase in the difficulties despite the presence of the United Nations. What I mean exactly is the absence of a side that helps and contributes to gathering the winning blocs in order to agree and form the government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the US Administration has withdrawn its hand completely from Iraq?
[Zebari] Unfortunately I say that the United States now is not bothered about anything other that withdrawing its forces from Iraq. If the new government is not formed by August, and in the light of these difficult security conditions, the withdrawal of the US forces will be too early, and immature. The US Administration has a problem now, if the government is not formed, the security challenges escalate, and the political problems get complicated, the situation will be extremely complicated, and in my opinion this might affect the timetable of the withdrawal of the US forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you explained this viewpoint of yours to the US side?
[Zebari] Yes, we always meet the US ambassador to Baghdad, and there are dialogs with US Vice President Joe Biden, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and also her assistants. However, so far their viewpoint is to leave the Iraqis to solve their problems on their own. Their message to us is: Solve your problems quickly so that we can get out quickly.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the current problem, with regard to the issue of manual recounting and the exclusion of some winners from Parliament, will be internationalized in order to find solutions for it?
[Zebari] When the situation gets complicated, it is inevitable that an acceptable side intervenes to help in finding solutions; the candidate for such a role is the United Nations. The issue is not one of internationalization as much as it is giving help, especially as there is an international authorization to the United Nations from the UN Security Council with the agreement of the Iraqi Government to intervene in the situation in Iraq. This authorization is under Chapter 7. Therefore, the United Nations can play a clear role and to express its views in order to help in bringing the various sides together.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you optimistic about finding solutions and proceeding with the formation of the government?
[Zebari] They call me the eternal optimist; however, after these elections the situation has become difficult.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Difficult?
[Zebari] Yes, difficult.
Christians have been in Iraq for 2,000 years, but so many have now fled due to attacks by Islamic extremists that their communities are disappearing. With other faiths also facing extinction, the character of the country could change forever.
By Ed Stourton BBC News, Lalesh
It was childish, but I couldn’t stop the salad issue bubbling up in my mind.
I was interviewing the Baba Sheik, who, in the ancient religion of the Yazidis, holds a rank equivalent to that of the Pope. While I was swotting up, I had encountered the intriguing suggestion that Yazidis are forbidden to eat lettuce.
The Baba Sheik was enthroned on a dais above me, bearded, turbaned and venerable in years. Somehow it seemed frivolous to raise the question.
Eventually I plucked up courage. "Was it true," I asked, "that some foods were haram, or forbidden?"
No, he patiently explained, ordinary Yazidis can eat what they want, but holy men like him refrain from certain vegetables because "they cause gases".
So now I know.
Emboldened, I pressed on to the other question that comes up in any discussion of the Yazidis.
"Why," I asked, "do your enemies accuse you of devil worship?" My translator froze.
"That," he hissed out of the corner of his mouth, "is the one question you never ask a Yazidi."
We moved swiftly on.
I know a little of the story of what has happened to Christians in Iraq since the 2003 invasion because I have touched on it during previous trips there, but the richness of some of Iraq’s other religious traditions was a revelation.
The Yazidis’ main shrine is high in the hills of Iraqi Kurdistan, at a place called Lalish.
It has close associations with the story of Noah. I spotted a serpent sculpted into the wall by the main entrance, and, with all the talk of devil worship in mind, enquired what it meant.
My guide explained that when the Ark sprang a leak, one of the snakes on board coiled its body into a bung to close it up.
The Yazidis claim their religion as the oldest in the world.
After trying quite hard to get to grips with its central tenets, I confess I am still pretty shaky on the matter. But the Temple at Lalish seems a place where religion is supposed to be enjoyed.
There are lengths of brightly-coloured cloth around some of the pillars – you tie a knot when you want to say a prayer.
In one chamber, there is an armchair carved out of the living rock, and you can press yourself into it to deal with back pains.
And I was invited to throw a square of satin-like material onto a rock that stood at about the height of a basketball hoop. When I scored, there was much applause and the promise that my wishes would all come true.
The Yazidis have been victims of some terrible attacks. In 2007, a co-ordinated operation involving five car bombs in a Yazidi area killed 200 and wounded another 300.
But my instinct is they will probably survive as a distinct religion because Lalish is in what is now a reasonably secure area of Iraq.
Life of Christ
Iraq’s Mandaeans face an even more uncertain future. Mandaeans believe that John the Baptist was the last great prophet.
Running water is central to all their rituals, and they go for weekly river baptisms in the way Christians go to church.
In Baghdad, I met the second most senior Mandaean priest, Sheik Alaa.
He looked exactly as if he had stepped out of a film about the life of Christ. Around his neck, where a Christian bishop would carry a pectoral cross, he wore a heavy, beautifully-worked silver image of a baptismal shawl draped over crossed staves.
Sheikh Alaa explained to me that the Mandaeans are pacifists, and that by tradition many of them work as silversmiths and goldsmiths.
Being a non-violent jeweller in a society where violent crime and robbery are commonplace is a rotten combination.
The Mandaeans regard themselves as Christianity’s close cousins and, like Iraq’s Christians, they have been targeted by Muslim extremists who erupted onto the Iraqi scene in the chaos following the invasion.
There are stories of Mandaean girls being raped for wearing jeans, and we were told of one young man who was forcibly circumcised by his fellow students. We were told that one of them read from the Koran as the others went about the task.
Iraq’s tragedy has been so huge that smaller tragedies like these stories of religious violence have got lost amidst it all.
Overall it’s getting safer in Iraq today, but whether the Mandaean religion will survive to see a better future is an open question.
Some 85% of Iraq’s Mandaeans now live abroad – only 5,000 remain in Iraq.
Will the new generation growing up in places like Sweden continue their ancient river rituals?
The elders like Sheik Alaa fear not.
Source: BBC News – Richness of Iraq’s minority religions revealed By Ed Stourton BBC News, Lalesh