Kirkuk archbishop urges ‘Marshall Plan’ for Iraq

Iraqi forces at their camp on the front line in the northwestern town of Fishkhabur, near the borders with Syria and Turkey, on Oct. 28. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2017
0

Kirkuk archbishop urges ‘Marshall Plan’ for Iraq

LOURDES, France: A top Catholic cleric from Iraq said his country has “lost all confidence” despite the rout of Daesh, and needs an economic and cultural “Marshall Plan.”
“It’s much deeper than simply giving money,” Yousef Thomas Mirkis told AFP after addressing a meeting of French bishops in the southwestern French pilgrimage town of Lourdes.
Mirkis, the Chaldean archbishop of the northern diocese of Kirkuk, said the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 had “opened a Pandora’s box, and today we see the consequences of the destabilization of the entire region.”
Iraq will long struggle with “many difficulties,” said Mirkis. “We know that sectarianism has failed, American-style democracy has failed. The only thing that will succeed is a rebirth arising from the grassroots.”
He said that if young people under 30, who make up some 60 percent of the population, “do not rise to the occasion, nothing can be done.”
The 68-year-old cleric, who received some of his training in France, thanked the French Catholic Church in a speech on Tuesday for its support to hundreds of Iraqi students who fled to Kirkuk from areas that fell to Daesh during a sweeping 2014 offensive, especially the militants’ Iraqi bastion Mosul.
He urged the bishops to further their support for Iraq, saying: “One could think of a new Marshall Plan. The survival of our communities depends at least in part on economics, which demands a comprehensive approach in the short, medium and long term.”
Mirkis noted that Iraq has lost more than half of its Christian population in recent years. Today, they number fewer than 350,000.
“One of the world’s oldest Christian communities is disappearing in Iraq before our eyes amid widespread indifference,” he said.
Chaldean Christians are the most numerous in Iraq. Before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, they numbered more than 1 million, including more than 600,000 in Baghdad.
The prelate said Daesh at its peak had many people in its thrall, even if they were “not won over to the ideology.”
He added: “The media talk about the defeat of Daesh (an Arabic acronym for IS)... but there is the mentality that Daesh created.”
The human, socioeconomic and political situation “must be taken into consideration,” he said.
“You cannot ignore the (need for) stability in a country that has lost all confidence in the future, so there’s really a lot of work to do,” added Mirkis, who is also archbishop of Sulaimaniyah, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The “yes” vote in an independence referendum in September in the Kurdish region — opposed not just by Baghdad but also Iran, Turkey and the Kurds’ Western allies — impeded the return of Christians to Mosul and nearby Qaraqosh, he said.
Mirkis said investing in students in Iraq was cheaper than providing scholarships in France, adding: “Emigration is not the answer, it’s an uprooting, a loss of identity.”
He added: “A Marshall Plan is much, much better than spending €2,000 ($2,300) to put a student through a year of university.”
Mirkis said Iraqi universities “need the experience of a country like France, which also once needed to rebuild its country” — in the aftermath of World War II.


Libyan FM rejects EU's ‘disembarkation platforms’

Libya was working with the EU to send the migrants to their home countries, said Libya’s FM. (Reuters)
Updated 49 sec ago
0

Libyan FM rejects EU's ‘disembarkation platforms’

  • All north African countries reject this proposal: Siala
  • The EU suggested setting up these “disembarkation platforms” in consultation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration

VIENNA: Libya and its north African neighbors are opposed to the EU’s plan for “regional disembarkation platforms” to stem the flow of migrants entering the bloc, Tripoli’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Al-Taher Siala said in an Austrian newspaper interview Friday.
“All north African countries reject this proposal — Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya, as well,” Siala — who has been on an official visit to Vienna this week — told the Die Presse newspaper.
“So with which countries does the EU want to agree these disembarkation platforms?” he asked in comments reported in German.
In June, EU member states approved the idea of creating centers outside Europe to assess migrants trying to reach the bloc and decide which are refugees in need of protection and which are economic migrants who should be returned to their home countries.
The EU suggested setting up these “disembarkation platforms” in consultation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.
Siala estimated that around 30,000 illegal migrants were currently held in detention centers in Libya “and around 750,000 outside.”
Libya was working with the EU to send the migrants to their home countries, he said.
“But unfortunately, some of these countries — many west African countries — refuse to take them back.”
In order to reduce the flow of migrants, Siala said Libya had reached an agreement with Chad, Niger and Sudan to bolster protection of its southern border.
“That’s actually where the European border begins, not the Mediterranean,” he said.
Asked what the EU could do to help protect that border, Siala suggested the bloc could offer “logistical (aid): landcruisers, drones, helicopters and perhaps a few light weapons.”
European Union and Arab leaders are to meet in Egypt in late February for their first summit as part of efforts to forge a new European-African alliance and fight migrant smuggling.
European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria — which currently holds the rotating EU presidency — last month as they vowed to intensify talks with Egypt and other North African countries to curb illegal migration.