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WikiLeaks: 2008-07-19: 08BAGHDAD2242: Basrah's Religious Minority Leaders Hope for Better Future

by WikiLeaks. 08BAGHDAD2242: July 19, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 03:55 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BAGHDAD2242 2008-07-19 11:52 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #2242/01 2011152
P 191152Z JUL 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 002242 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/19/2018 
Classified By: Senior Advisor Gordon Gray for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
1.  (C) Summary: Senior Advisor for Southern Affairs Gordon 
Gray and REO incoming and outgoing directors met on July 15 
and 16 with Father Emad and Abdel Kareem al-Khazraji, the 
leaders of Basrah's minority Christian and Sunni communities. 
 Both leaders expressed dismay over the widespread emigration 
from their communities since 2003 and hope that refugees 
would eventually return to Basrah.  Emad and Khazraji 
acknowledged that the security situation had improved but 
said their communities continue to be marginalized as 
minorities under a political system that centers on patronage 
politics and party affiliation.  Emad explained that without 
representation on the Provincial Council the Christians were 
unable to secure government financing and jobs.  Both 
expressed hope for political change and asked for U.S. 
assistance in building schools, rehabilitating places of 
worship, and other projects.  A scheduled meeting with 
Mandean leaders did not occur, but REO Basrah will follow up 
with this outreach effort to religious minorities.  End 
Overview of the Basrah Archdiocese 
2.  (C) Father Emad Aziz al-Banna said that he is the 
representative of Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Emmanuel Delly 
in southern Iraq and heads the archdiocese that consists of 
Maysan, Dhi Qar, Basrah, and Wasit.  He said that he 
currently carries the title of 'monsignor' and that Cardinal 
Delly had postponed a planned trip to Basrah to invest Emad 
with the title of Archbishop due to security concerns.  Emad 
estimated the size of the Christian population in Basrah as 
around 500 families, broken down as follows: 246 Chaldean 
families; 30 Assyrian Orthodox; 112 Assyrian Catholic; 100 
Armenian Orthodox; 25 Ashurians; 34 Roman Catholic; and 15 
Protestant.  In Maysan, the Christian population consists of 
14 Chaldean and 10 Roman Catholic families.  Asked about the 
situation in Maysan, Emad said the Christian community had 
not been targeted even before the government operation and 
said he had traveled to Maysan recently to celebrate Mass. 
Overview of the Sunni Endowment 
3.  (C) Khazraji explained that the Sunni Endowment 
traditionally had an administrative role, including running 
the 160 Sunni mosques in Basrah as well as Sunni mosques in 
Dhi Qar and Maysan.  The endowment also owns several orchards 
and farms, the profits of which are sent to the central 
endowment in Baghdad for distribution nationwide. 
Financially, the endowment is supported by the central 
government budget.  However, Khazraji explained that 
circumstances since 2003, including the burnings of mosques 
and assassinations of local Sunnis, had compelled the 
Endowment to expand its role and establish relationships with 
the U.S., UK, and provincial government to advocate on behalf 
of the Sunni community. 
Christian and Sunni Emigration 
4.  (C) Khazraji bemoaned the large-scale emigration of 
Basrah's Sunni population, estimating that only 200,000 
residents of the 700,000 - 800,000 strong population that 
existed prior to 2003.  He said that some Sunnis were 
returning due to following the improved security situation 
but that most families were waiting for the outcome of 
provincial elections.  Emad repeatedly expressed concern over 
the plight of Christian refugees who had fled Basrah to the 
north or neighboring countries.  He estimated that 650 
families had left Basrah since 2003.  The improving security 
situation has halted the emigration, and Emad expressed hope 
that the Christians would decide to return to Basrah. 
Trouble with Provincial, Central Government 
5.  (C) Although Emad initially characterized the 
relationship between the Christian community and Basrah's 
power brokers as "excellent," he went on to catalogue a list 
of complaints and abuses.  He claimed the Provincial Council 
was composed of "extremists and Iranians" and complained that 
Christians suffered from "marginalization, not 
discrimination."  He explained that without representation on 
the Provincial Council the Christians were unable to secure 
government financing and jobs. 
6.  (C) Although he acknowledged that the 'Charge of the 
Knights' operation had improved the security situation and 
stabilized the city, Khazraji criticized the provincial and 
central government for failing to protect the Sunni 
community.  He said provincial officials initially resisted 
BAGHDAD 00002242  002 OF 002 
Charge of the Knights and insisted in dismissing previous 
Basrah Operations Commander Mohan and Iraqi Police Chief 
Jalil:  "Mohan and Jalil opened a new chapter in our history 
by pursuing the terrorists...but the provincial government 
forced them from their positions."  Khazraji conceded that 
current Iraqi Security Forces officials are "good, but they 
are not Jalil and Mohan."  He said that party affiliation 
still played a central role in the appointment of government 
officials, and said of the new Basrah University president, 
"he is qualified, but he was picked because he was Da'wa." 
Khazraji also accused the central government of actively 
blocking an investigation into the murders of several Sunni 
Need for Political Change 
7.  (C) Emad expressed hope that "technocrats and scientists" 
would come to power in the provincial elections.  Asked if 
the Christians were running in the upcoming elections, Emad 
said "we need 40,000 votes to gain a seat, and our community 
is only 2,000 or 2,500 people.  A quota system would be 
better."  However, he revealed that the Chaldean Council in 
Kurdistan had made a deal with the ISCI secretary general to 
place a Christian candidate, agricultural engineer Salah 
Yousif, on the ISCI list.  Meanwhile, Khazraji described the 
current political climate as "a cold war."  He added that 
widespread discontent had led to the collapse of local 
political coalitions and called such change "good."  "The 
people need skilled figures to be elected - not militias. 
Right now 100 percent of PC funds go into their pockets, so 
if we elect people that take only 50 percent, even that would 
be an improvement," said Khazraji.  He deplored the influence 
of Iran on the elections, saying "even the traffic lights in 
the street are from Iran."  Describing Iran's ties to ISCI, 
he said that participants on a recent pilgrimage organized 
under ISCI's auspices received snacking nuts and robes 
bearing 'Made in Iran' labels. 
Request for U.S. Assistance 
8.  (C) Khazraji asked for U.S. assistance for several 
projects, including securing job opportunities for Sunnis, 
building a hospital and school, and renovating four to five 
Sunni mosques.  Khazraji said he had asked the Provincial 
Council Chair for assistance with the mosques but had been 
told that "the endowment should be responsible for such 
things."  He explained that the endowment's budget limited 
spending on mosques to 50,000 USD annually, far short of the 
300,000 USD needed to complete the repairs.  Emad likewise 
requested U.S. support for several specific projects, 
including an interfaith kindergarten, a textile factory that 
would employ women, and a children's theater.  He said that 
monthly rents in Basrah averaged 300 USD and outlined a plan 
to build subsidized apartments on church property as a means 
to entice Christian families into staying in Basrah. 
9.  (C) Although their respective communities differ markedly 
in national size and influence, Emad and Khazraji offered 
nearly identical narratives of past persecution and hopes for 
a better future.  Many Basrawis insist that their regional 
identity supersedes any sectarian tensions, and in fact 
outright attacks against the Sunni and Christian communities 
seem to have ceased following the reassertion of government 
control.  However, in a political system dominated by 
patronage politics the groups will likely continue to 
struggle to gain adequate government support, and in the 
long-term unemployment and marginalization may prove equal to 
ethnic violence in driving religious minorities out of the 
province.  End comment. 


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