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Iraq needs 'Marshall Plan', says Kirkuk archbishop
Lourdes, France (AFP) Nov 8, 2017

Iraq to probe disappearance of Arabs arrested by Kurds
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) Nov 8, 2017 - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation after dozens of complaints from Arab families about relatives they say have not been heard from since their arrest by Kurdish forces.

Kurds control an autonomous region in north Iraq, and they also held the disputed Kirkuk province from 2003 until they were driven out last month by federal forces after Baghdad rejected an independence referendum.

Since then, hundreds of Iraqis have gathered at demonstrations in Kirkuk city, calling for human rights bodies to shed light on the whereabouts of relatives arrested by Kurdish forces.

"Two thousand people have been arrested since 2003," Khaled al-Mafarji, an Arab MP from Kirkuk, told AFP.

A protest was held in Kirkuk on Tuesday as 74 complaints were filed concerning people who went missing after being detained, according to the Human Rights Committee of Kirkuk province.

During the rally, relatives appealed directly for Abadi to intervene to help find their loved ones -- drawing a quick response from the Iraqi leader.

"The prime minister has ordered investigations as demanded by the families of those arrested by Kurdish Asayesh members in Kirkuk province in order to know their fate," Abadi's office said later in a statement, referring to the Kurdish security services.

A senior Kurdish security official told AFP that any arrests were "measures taken to enforce the law".

"We are ready to answer any questions from Prime Minister Abadi," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One of those demonstrating on Tuesday, Najm al-Shahri, said Kurdish security forces arrested his son at home in 2007, when he was 17 years old.

Shahri said his son had been accused of "attacking US forces" who had intervened in Iraq three years earlier, leading to the downfall of dictator Saddam Hussein.

He said he wanted only one thing: "The body of my son or information about his fate".

A top Catholic cleric from Iraq says his country has "lost all confidence" despite the rout of the Islamic State group, and needs an economic and cultural "Marshall Plan".

"It's much deeper than simply giving money," Yousef Thomas Mirkis told AFP after addressing a meeting of French bishops in the southwestern French pilgrimage town of Lourdes.

Mirkis, the Chaldean archbishop of the northern diocese of Kirkuk, said the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 had "opened a Pandora's box, and today we see the consequences of the destabilisation of the entire region."

Iraq will long struggle with "many difficulties," said Mirkis. "We know that sectarianism has failed, American-style democracy has failed. The only thing that will succeed is a rebirth arising from the grassroots."

He said that if young people under 30, who make up some 60 percent of the population, "do not rise to the occasion, nothing can be done."

The 68-year-old cleric, who received some of his training in France, thanked the French Catholic Church in a speech on Tuesday for its support to hundreds of Iraqi students who fled to Kirkuk from areas that fell to IS during a sweeping 2014 offensive, especially the jihadists' Iraqi bastion Mosul.

He urged the bishops to further their support for Iraq, saying: "One could think of a new Marshal Plan. The survival of our communities depends at least in part on economics, which demands a comprehensive approach in the short, medium and long term."

Mirkis noted that Iraq has lost more than half of its Christian population in recent years. Today, they number fewer than 350,000.

"One of the world's oldest Christian communities is disappearing in Iraq before our eyes amid widespread indifference," he said.

Chaldean Christians are the most numerous in Iraq. Before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 they numbered more than one million, including more than 600,000 in Baghdad.

- Emigration 'not the answer' -

The prelate said IS at its peak had many people in its thrall, even if they were "not won over to the ideology".

He added: "The media talk about the defeat of Daesh (an Arabic acronym for IS)... but there is the mentality that Daesh created."

The human, socioeconomic and political situation "must be taken into consideration," he said.

"You cannot ignore the (need for) stability in a country that has lost all confidence in the future, so there's really a lot of work to do," added Mirkis, who is also archbishop of Sulaimaniyah, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The "yes" vote in an independence referendum in September in the Kurdish region -- opposed not just by Baghdad but also Iran, Turkey and the Kurds' Western allies -- impeded the return of Christians to Mosul and nearby Qaraqosh, he said.

Mirkis said investing in students in Iraq was cheaper than providing scholarships in France, adding: "Emigration is not the answer, it's an uprooting, a loss of identity."

He added: "A Marshall Plan is much, much better than spending 2,000 euros ($2,300) to put a student through a year of university."

Mirkis said Iraqi universities "need the experience of a country like France, which also once needed to rebuild its country" -- in the aftermath of World War II.

Traditional carpet weaving in central Iraq unravels
Al-Hamza, Iraq (AFP) Nov 5, 2017
In the shadow of the Imam Hamza mosque in the region of the ancient kingdom of Babylon, a carpet market that was once bustling is now almost empty. The only visitor to Hamad al-Soltani's small shop in the city of Al-Hamza in central Iraq, some 175 kilometres (110 miles) south of Baghdad, is a local tribal chief. Nothing in the world can convince Sheikh Hazem al-Hiyali - a Bedouin scarf ... read more

Related Links
Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century

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