Iraq Minister Reassures Pope of Religious Freedom Under New Constitution

According to Iraq's foreign minister, the country's new draft constitution embodies a "balanced language".

Published 26 August 2005
The foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, has attempted to reassure Pope Benedict XVI that all religious groups living in the country will be respected, despite the draft constitution being based on Islamic Shariah law.

Mr Zebari said at a press conference after a meeting with the pontiff Thursday: “It [the constitution] does state that Islam is the official religion of the state and the primary source of legislation, but it is not the only source.”

He added that the constitution should not contradict Islam’s principles but also democratic principles and human rights. “It has a balanced language,” Mr Zebari said.

Mr Zebari met with the Pope at his summer residence, Castelgandalfo, in the hills near Rome.A

rchbishop Fernando Filoni, the Vatican's apostolic nunzio in Baghdad, told Vatican Radio the meeting was an "important moment" in its relations with Iraq.

The Vatican released a statement on the issue of religious freedom in Iraq under the new constitution raising concerns that religious minorities may not be protected by the new constitution.

The statement said: “It is stressed that the rebuilding of institutions must come about in a climate of dialogue with the involvement of all religious groups and the various sectors of society,” the statement said.

According to Mr Zebari, he stressed to the Pope during the meeting that under the new constitution guarantees “respect for all nations, religion and gender”.

The Pope has so far failed to give his blessing to the constitution, mainly due to concerns over the role of Islamic Shariah law.

Sunni Arabs, who advocate a secular state, have bitterly contested the new constitution out of fear that they will be cut out of the country’s oil wealth in a federal arrangement. Mr Zebari said that while no one was being forced to accept the document, time was running out.

Mr Zebari warned the Sunni Arabs to “not squander this opportunity again”. He added: “The more the process is delayed, the more violence ordinary Iraqis will face.”

Christians are believed to make up about 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people - most of them Chaldeans, Assyrians and Roman Catholics.

Ongoing negotiations by members of the drafting panel have meant that Thursday’s scheduled parliamentary vote on the constitution has now been postponed indefinitely.

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