Religious Minorities in Iraq Worried Constitution Won't Protect Them
(RNS) With an Aug. 15 deadline looming for completion of a permanent constitution in Iraq, the country's religious minorities are increasingly fearful that it will create an Islamic government that doesn't protect their rights.
In the draft constitution, the role of Islam in the state has changed from "a form of legislation" to "a main form of legislation," said Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom. In addition, a proposal has been made to impose Shariah law, the strict and conservative Islamic law, above women's rights and the bill of rights, Shea said.
On July 19 in Baghdad, a group of women representing multiple religions protested the inclusion of the law in the constitution under the sponsorship of the Christian political party, the Assyrian Democratic Movement.
"I'm fighting for the name of Christianity to be remembered in the constitution with the same rights of other religions," said Yonadam Kanna, the only representative of the Christian party in the 275-seat National Assembly and the leader of the Assyrian Democratic Movement.
Kanna made the comment in a telephone interview from Iraq.
Including the conservative Sunni Muslims in the constitution -- which many National Assembly officials had hoped would provide balanced representation -- has had its drawbacks, assembly officials have said. The Sunnis have not approved the proposed system of federalism or dual citizenship for Iraq's exiled citizens and maintain the Kurdish language is unofficial, Kanna said.
Earlier in the week, the faith-based group World Compassion said it was launching a petition drive to urge a guarantee of religious freedom be included in the Iraqi constitution.
"We're not asking that a specific religion be practiced in Iraq," said World Compassion President Terry Law. "We just want Iraqis to have the freedom to choose for themselves."
The petition, available at www.worldcompassion.tv, will be sent to top Iraqi officials.
In a meeting last week in Washington, three uncommon allies representing Iraq's religious minorities urged the U.S. government to recognize their unequal treatment, particularly in the ethnically and religiously diverse north where Kurdish Muslims have been affirmed the ruling majority.
The panel was a union of Iraqi religions typically at odds: the Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, which include Catholics and members of the Orthodox Church of the East; Mandaeans, who claim John the Baptist as their prophet; and Turkmen Muslims.
--Ashtar Analeed Marcus