This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 9, 2019.
Distributing food to protesters with 40 fellow church members under the Jumariyah bridge near Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Ara Badalian made a poignant observation.
“This movement is a flood, occupying the hearts of the youth and the poor, without any religious discrimination,” the pastor of National Baptist Church recalled to CT. “It has broken down all the walls that divided Iraqis.”
It is at the bridges—about a dozen span the Tigris River, which bifurcates the Iraqi capital—where most violence has taken place. The protest movement, which began in October, has resulted in more than 400 deaths, around a dozen of them security personnel. Over 17,000 people have been injured.
In response, the Chaldean Catholic Church decided last week to refrain from holding public celebrations of Christmas, trading tree decorations and holiday receptions for prayers of intercession.
“Instead of bringing hope and prosperity, the current government structure has brought continued corruption and despair,” Bashar Warda, the Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, told the United Nations Security Council last week.
“[Iraqi youth] have made it clear that they want Iraq … to be a place where all can live together as equal citizens in a country of legitimate pluralism and respect for all.”
Protesters have demanded the dissolution of parliament, widespread government reforms, and amendment of the sectarian-based 2005 constitution.
Ratified following the United States-led 2003 Iraq War, the current constitution gives the Middle East nation’s Shiite majority (55% of the population) the leading position of prime minister, as well as the influential interior and foreign ministries.
The Sunni minority (40%) receive the speaker of parliament and the defense ministry. The Kurds, who comprise only a third of the Sunni population but are concentrated in their own autonomous northern region, receive the presidency and finance ministry.
Islam is established as the religion of the state and the foundational source of legislation. Christians are among three religious minorities guaranteed religious freedom, though the constitution protects the Islamic identity of the majority.
While the protests have been cross-sectarian in Baghdad, they’ve paradoxically been strongest in the nine Shiite provinces in southern Iraq.
“People don’t want foreign interference from anywhere…
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