Ever since his election two years ago, Baghdad’s Archbishop Louis Sako has not been one to mince words. Speaking at a symposium in Baghdad this weekend, Sako called for concrete action to effectively hamstring the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq.
“Denunciation is not enough,” Sako said. “We need to take action, starting by cutting off funding for extremism and terrorism,” he said.
The Archbishop has always accepted the legitimacy of the use of lethal force against ISIS, though he believes that air strikes, while helpful, are insufficient. Last November, Sako told Vatican Radio that more U.S. and international help, including ground forces, is essential to drive ISIS militants out of Iraq. “The future depends on American actions,” he said, but he added that bombing “is a partial solution.”
“They have to send soldiers, troops, to expel these fundamentalist people,” he said.
Sako has also said that U.S. air strikes have been effective in detaining ISIS, but he advocates “a long-term strategy to destroy the sick ideology that drives the action of the violent.”
In Saturday’s symposium, Sako said that what is needed is to “dismantle this terrible culture, its theoretical roots and supporters, giving birth to a new open and positive culture that respects diversity and different visions.”
Sako also emphasized the importance of education as a long-term solution to bring about a new mentality in the region. He said it is necessary to change the method of teaching history and religion in schools, to emphasize the positive elements of different religions and inculcate respect for others. “We must be united,” Sako said, “and do something before it’s too late.”
The January 31 symposium focused on harmony between religions during a week dedicated to coexistence among different faiths. Along with Archbishop Sako, the symposium was attended by the President of the Republic and Prime Minister Fouad Massoum to Haider-Abadi, as well as the president of the Iraqi Parliament, deputies, government ministers, ambassadors, Christian religious leaders, Muslim Yazidi and Sabeans.
In his speech Saturday, Sako decried those who exploit religion for “criminal and terrorist purposes.” When it comes to violent actions, he said, “We have to stop saying that they are done in God’s name.” God tells us that “we shalt not kill, we shalt not steal.”
It is time to “reject the culture of death” and put an end to conflicts and disagreements, Sako said, because only true reconciliation “can save the country and its people” from killings, forced migration, theft, and destruction of personal property.
According to an estimate released Sunday by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the fighting and violence in Iraq during the month of January caused the deaths of at least 1,375 people, of whom 790 are civilians. Bombings and other terrorist acts led to the injury of another 2,240 people, mostly civilians.
UNAMI said that because of different variables, its numbers “have to be considered as the absolute minimum.”
Other sources, in fact, cite even higher figures. Iraq Body Count, for instance, places the death toll for January at 1,431.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.