After Saddam, Trouble for Iraqi Christians?
An Iraqi Catholic explains Christians' fears about the next Iraqi regime.
March 21, 2003: Fr. Clarence Burby is an Iraqi Jesuit priest who has worked for ten years in Jordan and frequently visits Baghdad. In a phone call from Amman, Fr. Burby described how, despite isolated and troubling anti-Christian outbursts in Iraq, the country--and Saddam's regime--have generally been tolerant of Christians.
Could you describe your involvement with Christian churches in Iraq?
I'm of Iraqi origin. I have worked as a Jesuit in Iraq for four years. I lived in Iraq before I joined the Society of Jesus. My work has been in teaching, mainly at a high school in Baghdad called Baghdad College.
It was taken over by the government in the late 1960s. I continued there after the departure of American Jesuits (who were expelled in the 1960s) because as an Iraqi I was able to. This was just around the time when Saddam Hussein was coming to power with the Ba'ath party.
Though you're in Jordan now, you've visited Iraq often in recent years. What have you done there?
I have been going practically every year, about twice a year. Each time for about one or two months.
I taught a semester at the seminary college called Babel College. I also did a lot of pastoral work in different churches-preaching, lectures, sermons, pastoral work with priests. I also did projects like helping a priest get computers in one of these churches, to help young ladies of poorer families get training, as well as to help the parish. The situation in the country has been very difficult because of the embargo.
How has life been for Iraqi Christians and other non-Muslims under Saddam Hussein?
With regard to Christians and churches, there's been peace with regard to his politics. There was no religious persecution; there was tolerance. The regime of Saddam Hussein has friendly relations with church leaders.
On the whole, relations between Christians and Muslims are OK. But especially in the north, in the Mosul area, there have traditionally not been good relations between Christians and Muslims. There's a sort of fanaticism.
But in general there are no problems. Saddam has specially favored the Christians with his generous initiatives towards churches. So even though people think he's a bad ruler in other ways, you-and many other Iraqi Christians--approve of his position on religious tolerance.
When Saddam's record on human rights is so poor, why is he tolerant of Christians?