Viewing cable 08VATICAN60, IRAQI AMBASSADOR COMMENTS ON MALIKI'S MEETING WITH THE POPE
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INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
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TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM PREF KIRF IZ VT
SUBJECT: IRAQI AMBASSADOR COMMENTS ON MALIKI'S MEETING WITH THE POPE
REF: A) BAGHDAD 2398
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CLASSIFIED BY: RFOLEY, A/DCM.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
¶1. (C) Summary: During his recent meeting with the Pope and with
Holy See Secretary of State Bertone, Maliki both recognized the
need and committed to protect and assist Christians in Iraq.
The Pope also asked Maliki to assist Iraqi refugees and
internally displaced persons. In a separate meeting, Bertone
asked for better security and the inclusion of Christians in the
police. His deputy raised the issue of the return of property
belonging to Christians. Bertone deferred to the Iraqis on the
future administrative and political organization of their
territory, while calling for the rights of Christians to be
recognized throughout the country.
¶2. (C) Summary continued: Maliki visited the tomb of John Paul
II but avoided being photographed to prevent criticism at home.
Chaldean communities in Europe welcomed Maliki's visit but were
distressed that the Prime Minister urged governments and the
Holy See to tell refugees to return. End of Summary.
¶3. (C) A/DCM met on July 30 with the Iraqi Ambassador to the
Holy See, Albert Yelda, to discuss Prime Minister Nouri
Al-Maliki's July 24 and 25 visit to the Vatican. A/DCM later
met with the Rome representative of the Chaldean Church,
Monsignor Philip Najim, to obtain his impression of the visit as
well as that of Chaldean communities in Europe.
Pope concerned for plight of Christians and refugees
¶4. (C) Maliki's private meeting with the Pope on July 25 lasted
for about 20 minutes. Yelda said that the Pope raised his
concern for the plight of Christians in Iraq, and for the needs
of all refugees and internally displaced persons. Prime
Minister Maliki invited the Pope to visit Iraq. Yelda said that
Maliki was very satisfied with the meeting and got a very
positive impression of the Pope for his kindness and cordiality.
Following the meeting the Holy See issued a press release (see
last paragraph for Post's translation of the release).
Bertone asks for security, Mamberti raises property
¶5. (C) Prior to his meeting with the Pope, Maliki met for about
45 minutes with the Holy See's Secretary of State, Cardinal
Tarcisio Bertone, and with his deputy, Secretary for Relations
with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti. Also present at
that meeting was Ambassador Yelda and other members of Maliki's
¶6. (C) Yelda said that the generally mild Cardinal Bertone
spoke in uncharacteristically strong terms about the need to
protect Iraqi Christians and to include them in the security
forces. Regarding the establishment of a province or region for
Iraqi Christians, Bertone said that the Holy See would be
satisfied with whatever peaceful arrangements the Christian
communities and the government of Iraq would find acceptable.
He added that the Holy See would like to see the rights of Iraqi
Christians respected wherever they are, not just in areas where
they may achieve some level of self-administration. (Note:
Bertone's message would seem to indicate that the Holy See
incorporated in their own briefing documents our recommendation
to underline to Maliki the need to bring Christians into the
security forces and to stress that minorities are an essential
part of Iraqi's social and political fabric. End note.)
¶7. (C) Yelda stated that a less than eloquent Archbishop
Mamberti spoke about the need to protect the property of Iraqi
Christians, and to return property that displaced Christians
have lost. Maliki, who was briefly taken aback by Mamberti's
request, assured him that the government of Iraq was not taking
away property from Christians. Mamberti clarified that he was
speaking in general terms about the properties of displaced
Christians. Maliki assured Bertone and Mamberti that the
government was ready to assist and financially support the
return of displaced Iraqis. Maliki also asked that the Holy See
encourage Iraqi refugees to return.
Maliki visits Pope John Paul II's tomb
¶8. (C) Yelda, who is an Assyrian Christian, said that he
convinced Maliki to pay a visit to Saint Peter's Basilica and
the tomb of Pope John Paul II, located in the Basilica's crypt.
The visit took place on July 24, a day before Maliki's meeting
with Pope Benedict and Bertone at the Pope's summer residence in
Castel Gandolfo (about 13 miles from Rome).
¶9. (C) According to Yelda, Maliki readily agreed to the visit,
but insisted that there be no press and no photographs, as he
did not want critics at home --particularly Sunnis who scoff at
Shia traditions of pilgrimages to the burial sites of Imams-- to
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polemicize this gesture. Even without pictures, Yelda thought
that having Maliki visit the tomb was an important and
symbolically powerful sign of respect for all Christians.
Chaldeans in Europe concerned about pressure to return
¶10. (C) Monsignor Najim, who oversees the pastoral needs of
Chaldean parishes in Europe as the Rome-based representative of
Patriarch Delly, told the A/DCM that he was happy with what he
had heard about the visit. While Najim was in Denmark when
Maliki met the Pope and was not involved in the visit, he stated
that he was glad that Benedict could personally ask the Iraqi
Prime Minister to protect Iraqi Christians and assist refugees.
¶11. (C) Najim was critical of what he saw as Maliki's advocacy
for an end to refugee protection for Iraqis in European
countries. Chaldean communities, he said, were distressed by
this message, which he thought was unhelpful and premature.
Najim added that Iraqi Embassies and consulates were not doing
anything for Iraqi refugees, citing as an example the long
waiting period to obtain the new machine-readable passport
outside Iraq, which many countries (including the US) now
require for travel. Najim said that some European countries were
already closing the door to new Iraqi refugees, and that he did
not know of any family currently in Europe willing to return, at
least for the time being. He did think, however, that a longer
period of security would lead to a greater number of returnees.
¶12. (C) Ambassador Yelda also commented on Maliki's ministers'
notion that the Pope could command Iraqi Christians to return,
which he said evidenced their misunderstanding of the workings
of the Catholic Church and the role of the Pope. Yelda was
pessimistic about the future of Christians in Iraq and the
Middle East: "once upon a time" --he said-- "the British
protected the Christians in the Middle East. Now, no one does".
Yelda attributed this to what he sees as the relentless
pressure of Saudi-supported "Wahabism". (Note: Yelda, who in
the past was part of the Iraqi opposition in exile in London,
maintains that Saudi Arabia is a much bigger threat to Iraq than
Iran, and that Shiaism, with its "Vatican-like" formal
hierarchy, allows for the possibility of a fruitful dialogue,
while the way to deal with "Sunni radicals" is to demonstrate
strength, not "appeasement". End note.)
A Christian homeland
¶13. (C) Najim was pleased with what he was told Bertone had
said about allowing Iraqis to decide the future form of the
Iraqi state. For Najim, this is a positive change from what he
took as the Vatican's over-reaching opposition to the notion of
a Christian homeland. Najim said that previous statements on
the part of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Prefect of the
Congregation for Oriental Churches, critically referring to the
establishment of a Christian homeland in Ninewa as "the
ghettoization of Christians in Iraq" were misguided and
unfortunate. (Note: Sandri oversees the operations of the
largely-autonomous eastern-rite churches, including the Chaldean
Church. He had also criticized the notion of having European
governments give preferential treatment to Iraqi Christian
refugees seeking political asylum. End note.)
¶14. (C) Najim implied that those in favor and against "a
Christian homeland" now understood each other better. Najim,
himself a proponent of an autonomous region, agrees with Bertone
in underlining that Christians in Iraq should have rights
regardless of where they live. Najim sees a homeland as a
safeguard when those rights are not respected, and also as a way
of addressing a current need in an area --Ninewa-- where there
are already large numbers of Christians. (Comment: While
Bertone did not speak against the Christian homeland notion in
his meeting with Maliki, the Holy See remains skeptical that
such a plan is viable. End comment.)
¶15. (C) Yelda noted that the Iraqi constitution already allows
for the possibility of establishing something that would look
like a Christian province (albeit not an autonomous region).
Yelda himself believes that an autonomous Christian region is
unachievable, but understands that some political leaders will
want to formally lay out that option, as an aspirational goal,
in a constitutional amendment. He added that the Chaldean
bishop of San Diego, Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, is one of the main
advocates of an autonomous homeland (Note: In Europe, Chaldean
communities are under the jurisdiction of Latin-rite European
bishops. In the US, there are two Chaldean bishops, one in San
Diego and another one in Detroit. End note.)
¶16. (C) Maliki's meeting with the Pope has advanced the goal of
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a plural and tolerant Iraq by further impressing upon the
Government of Iraq the importance that the Holy See (and by
extension Catholics in particular, and many Christians in
general) attaches to the plight of Christians in the region. On
the negative side, both Yelda and Najim's analysis, albeit
positive on the visit itself, reveal a persistent, underlying
pessimism for the future of Christians in Iraq. End comment.
¶17. Below is the text of post's translation of the press
release issued by the Holy See on July 25.
HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE RELEASE
Today, at the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo, the Holy
Father Benedict XVI received in audience His Excellency, Mr.
Nouri Kamel Al-Maliki, Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq.
The Prime Minster met earlier with the Most Eminent Secretary of
State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The Most Excellent Secretary
for Relations with States also attended that meeting.
The discussions, which took place in an atmosphere of
cordiality, enabled the parties to examine some fundamental
aspects of the situation in Iraq, while also taking into
consideration the regional context. Particular attention was
paid to the subject of the large number of Iraqi refugees -
inside and outside of the country - who require help, also
taking into account a hoped for return to their homeland.
The parties reaffirmed their condemnation of the violence that
almost on a daily basis continues to strike different regions of
the country, not sparing the Christian communities who have a
strongly-felt need for greater security.
The parties expressed the hope that Iraq would embark on the
path of peace and development through dialogue and collaboration
among all the ethnic and religious groups, including minorities,
so that with respect for their respective identities, and in a
spirit of reconciliation and a desire for the common good, they
will together achieve the moral and civil reconstruction of the
country. The importance of inter-religious dialogue as a means
toward religious understanding and civil coexistence was also
emphasized. The Prime Minster invited the Holy Father to visit
Iraq. End Text.