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Increased tensions in Middle East will affect Christians, says Iraqi bishop

by Cara Bentley

A bishop from Erbil, where Iran carried out missile attacks, has warned that continued conflict could cause Iraq's Christian community to lose confidence in their future.

Archbishop Nathaniel Nizar Semaan of Hadiab-Erbil issued an appeal for prayer to charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), saying he hoped the conflict was just "temporary".

The Syriac Catholic clergyman commented as other bishops from the region also highlighted the potential impact of the tension on Iraq's Christian community, amid reports that the number of believers has dwindled to below 250,000 - a decline of 90 percent within a generation.

Archbishop Semaan told ACN: "Any conflict and tension, such as what we have seen over these past days, makes us lose our trust in the situation.

"We just hope that it was just a temporary situation of violence and will finish immediately."


Archbishop Semaan


Iran carried out missile attacks on US air bases in Erbil as well as Al Asad, west of Iraqi capital Baghdad, last Tuesday in response to the US killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani four days earlier.

The shooting down of a Ukrainian aircraft with 82 Iranians on board has led to mass anti-government protests and calls for new leaders.

Archbishop Semaan said: "We want to have a good relationship with everybody but at the same time respect our dignity and identity as Iraqi people."

He added that he hoped Christians would not feel unsafe: "We hope that we are not going to reach that point where we will have to leave. We hope that we will never reach that point."

Catholic Archbishops Bashar Warda and Yousif Mirkis also expressed concerns about Iraq becoming the location for clashes between Iran and the US.

Archbishop Warda said: "The current tensions are threatening the serious fragility of the [Christian, Yazidi and other minority] communities, which are tired of war and the tragic consequences of it."

He said Christians and other minority religious groups "need the certainty, reassurance, hope and the belief that Iraq can be a peaceful country to live in rather than being victims and endless collateral damage."


Archbishop Warda


In the UK, Labour's Barry Sheerman MP has raised the idea of a possible all-faith delegation to Iran for the purpose of freeing British-Iranian detainees , saying: "If we want peace we have got to carry on speaking to the Iranians, and all of us who've been campaigning for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and the other prisoners held, believe that perhaps speaking at a level of faith, an all-faith delegation going to Iran at the present time to speak to the faith leaders in Iran might actually... would he support that sort of delegation visiting Iran?"

Mr Sheerman said he had spoken to the Archbishop of Canterbury and it could take place.

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