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Bishop of Coventry visits Iraq
The delegation with Iraqi President Fuad Masum.

Last week, the Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, visited Iraq as part of a global delegation of church leaders. The 14-member delegation organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) spent five days in Iraq, in both Baghdad and the northern Kurdistan region. During the trip, the delegation talked to political religious and humanitarian leaders about the future of vulnerable people in Iraq following the expected military defeat of so-called ‘Islamic state.’

The WWC delegation met with several political leaders throughout the country, including Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and President Fuad Masum. In the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, it met with cabinet ministers and the deputy prime minister Qubad Talabani. The group also met with United Nations officials, humanitarian workers, MPs in Baghdad and Erbil and other political actors. The delegation also engaged carefully with religious leaders of the smaller components of Iraqi society, including Church leaders and Christian young people, as well as with majority Muslim religious leaders.

In these talks, the delegation shared the findings of a study it conducted together with Norwegian Church Aid, exploring the specific needs of displaced people in the region. Released in December 2016, the study details specific recommendations to secure the future of social and religious diversity in Iraq.

Members of communities specifically targeted by ‘Islamic State’ - including Yazidis and Christians - remain extremely vulnerable. Many people from these vulnerable groups are living in camps in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and those who have the means and opportunity to do so are leaving the country to seek a new life elsewhere. The number of people fleeing Iraq is depriving the country of its cultural and religious diversity, and jeopardizing the future of the indigenous Christian presence after more than 1,700 years of Christian history in the region.

Iraqi church leaders and government representatives told delegation members that although the military campaign to defeat ‘Islamic State’ has recently retaken some Christian towns; it is still not safe for Christians or minority groups to return to their homes. Both the delegation and Iraqi politicians agreed that the physical, legal and constitutional security of minority groups in Iraq remains an important issue.

Iraq's Deputy Interior Minister Aqeel al-Khazali greets Bishop Christopher.

Based on the findings from their report and the discussions had with Iraqi leaders during the visit, the delegation has called for concerted action from international donors to support efforts to stabilize and rebuild affected communities and societies so that displaced minority groups in Iraq will be able to return to their homes in the assurance of long-term security.

Bishop Christopher says;

"There is an almost unbearable weight of suffering in Iraq. With the success of the campaign against ISIS; the country is approaching a clear crossroads. It’s an opportunity for new action by both political leaders in Iraq as well as for those in nations, like my own, which have had a long-term involvement in Iraq, including military involvement. We have been involved here politically and militarily over a long period, and now the country is in chaos. Can we now rise to the challenge of pursuing peace and building a coalition of reconstruction and renewal which is pursued with the same sort of aggression and determination and levels of finance that are comparable to our military involvement?"

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