Cover Story



Issue: "Iraq: The other caucuses," Jan. 31, 2004

The Christians were held one month then released, all but a pastor from Eritrea who goes by the name Joseph. He said he wasn't released until U.S. soldiers opened Baghdad's Mukhabarat prison last year on April 4. "We were praying for the Americans to come," Joseph said, "not only to free us but to free our churches."

Even after war and freedom, Christian leaders worry that the United States will now compromise with Islamic radicals. In an interview last November, Mr. Bremer said a draft constitution will "probably" include statements in support of Islam. He also said the constitution could "include some form of Shariah law."

Any form of Shariah would be "the biggest mistake we have ever made," said evangelical pastor Yousif Matty. For many years Mr. Matty pastored the evangelical church in Kirkuk. Baath Party thugs exiled him to Kurdish areas in the north after the Gulf War, where his home and a Christian bookshop were fire-bombed more than once. He has been targeted also by Iranian-backed militants for his work among Muslims. Nonetheless, he returned to Kirkuk last spring.

"Only 3 percent of those living in communist countries were communists. They never had popular support. The same is true with radical Islam. It doesn't have to be popular to take over our nation," he said.

Church leaders say they won't be soothed by a cramped bill of rights guaranteeing freedom of worship only. They want complete freedom of religion, which includes the freedom to evangelize, to publicize religious ideas, and to change one's religion. In most countries of the Arab world, national identity cards carry religious affiliation along with date of birth and other vitals. In all but a few, religious identity cannot be changed officially. For Iraqis to be truly free, a new constitution must omit religious identity restrictions, laws against conversion, and anything else hemming religious expression, Mr. Matty said. Shariah law favors those restrictions.

Mr. Matty points out that Shiites in Iraq should favor religious freedom and pluralistic government. After all, they, along with Sunni Kurds, were the most persecuted religious group under Saddam.

"Ten years from today we will get another Saddam if the law is the same law," said Mr. Matty. "The constitution is the most important item. For Sunnis, for Shiites, for Christians, and also so much for the Americans, that they secure the future [from terrorism] for their boys and girls. You started this fight at a great price. You need to end it with the goals that started it.

"I say to American leaders, Don't betray the trust and sacrifice of those guys, your soldiers. Freedom is worth it, no matter what the price."


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