AsiaNews reports that as the effects of Sunni-Shia clashes and Saddam Hussein's execution gather momentum, Iraq could splinter into three nations with serious consequences for Christians, according to the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako.
"Internet sites and papers are already publishing the new political maps with the Kurdish north, the Shia south and the Sunni centre," he said.
"This will have serious consequences for neighbouring countries like Turkey, Syria and Iran, where the local Kurdish population is demanding autonomy or independence but where local governments are opposed."
He says a divided Iraq will not bring peace and stability to the country.
For Archbishop Sako, natural gas-rich Kirkuk is a time-bomb, "a source of dangerous tensions". "Huge interests and dangerous tensions gravitate around Kirkuk," he said.
The Archbishop added that "Christians are confronted with increasing difficulties."
Accoding to Archbishop Sako, some people are thinking of gathering Christians in a specific area, the Nineveh plain, which would serve as a buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds.
"The Nineveh plain is largely surrounded by Arabs and Christians would serve as a useful and undefended buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds."
However, Archbishop Sako believes that it would be preferable "to work at the constitutional level and each area to guarantee religious freedom and equal rights for believers of all faiths throughout the land, including Christians who can be found everywhere".
Meanwhile, US Catholic bishops have responded to plans to increase American troop levels in Iraq with a call for the US to end its troop deployment in Iraq "at the earliest opportunity", Catholic Online reports.
Recalling pre-invasion criticism of US plans by the Holy See and the US bishops, Bishop William Skylstad emphasised the need for "broader regional and international engagement" and that "more sustained US leadership" to address "other deadly conflicts" in the region, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the crisis in Lebanon.
"As our nation weighs the president's proposals and considers alternatives offered by others," Bishop Skylstad said, "our (US) conference of bishops seeks to once again lift up a key moral question that ought to guide our nation's actions in Iraq: How can the US bring about a responsible transition in Iraq?"
"Our nation's military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence actually contributes to a responsible transition," he said, adding "our nation should seek effective ways to end their deployment at the earliest opportunity consistent with this goal".
He laid out "benchmarks for progress" by which current and future policies should be judged in order to meet "our nation's moral responsibility to help Iraqis to live with security and dignity in the aftermath of military action".
Among those includes providing for "minimally acceptable levels of security; economic reconstruction to create employment for Iraqis; and political structures and agreements that help overcome divisions, reduce violence, broaden participation, and increase respect for religious freedom and basic human rights."
Photo source: Washington Post. Graphic based on author Peter W Galbraith's opinion of how Iraq could be divided.
U.S. gov’t has a moral obligation to ‘responsible transition’ in Iraq, end troop deployment, bishops’ prez says (Catholic Online, 15/1/07)
US bishops cautious over Bush’s new Iraq strategy (The Universe, 16/1/07)
Iraq moving towards division, says bishop of Kirkuk (AsiaNews, 16/1/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Benedict in Iraqi refugee appeal (CathNews, 19/12/06)
Catholic agency in Iraq closes over threats (CathNews, 23/11/06)
More young Christian women abducted, raped in Iraq (12/10/06)
More Catholic church attacks across Asia (CathNews, 27/9/06)
Five churches bombed in Baghdad (CathNews, 18/10/04)
Baghdad Patriarch says 'we knocked, a door opened' (CathNews, 29/9/04)
17 Jan 2007