Their numbers are plummeting, and there may soon be none left in the country. Archbishop Warda is fighting to make sure that sectarian conflict doesn’t force them out altogetherby Abigail Frymann Rouch / May 26, 2017 / Leave a comment
Down the quiet, polished corridor of a central London hotel, a Middle Eastern archbishop, clad in his black cassock, strides with a purposeful swoosh. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil is here to start raising a staggering $262m, so that Iraqis displaced by Islamic State three years ago can return home and repair their homes.
We speak less than a mile from where MPs approved the invasion of his country in 2003. When we met in 2011, Archbishop Warda told me flatly that Tony Blair had done “much harm to Iraq.” This time, Warda, whose archdiocese in Iraq’s Kurdish region has been co-ordinating aid for around 95,000 displaced Iraqis, wants to talk about the future, and in particular a sort of “Marshall Plan” for the northern Nineveh Plains region.
“We’d like as many benefactors as we can; states, organisations—because this will speed the whole process… and show the [Iraqi] Christians we are serious,” the archbishop told Prospect. The appeal is aimed at Europeans and Americans, he adds, and during his visit to London he met officials from the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, as well as the Prince of Wales, a vocal supporter of Middle Eastern Christians.
The multi-million dollar figure is how much the ecumenical Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC) has calculated it will cost to renovate 13,000 homes in nine majority-Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains region around Mosul, an area Archbishop Warda describes as “secure but like a ghost town.”
Iraqi Christians’ plummeting numbers—from 1.4m in 1987 to between 230,000 and 275,000 now, raising fears that they could disappear from Iraq in the next few years—have forced collaboration between the hitherto rivalrous Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic Churches.
Why is the reconstruction not the work of the Iraqi government? Warda says Baghdad has pledged $1,000 per house, but he appears to have low expectations. “We need works, not words,” he insists. “From what I see, Iraqi politicians are working for different agendas—Turkey, the Gulf, Iran.”