By Devin Watkins
At least 250 people have died throughout Iraq in connection with massive anti-government protests during the month of October.
On Monday, masked gunmen murdered 18 protesters and wounded over 800 others in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. Protesters said they were unsure if the gunmen were special forces, riot police, or militias backed by Iran.
Dialogue and reconciliation
Pope Francis sent his thoughts to all Iraqis on Wednesday and appealed for both the government and protesters to pursue the path of dialogue. He was speaking at the end of the weekly General Audience.
“As I express my condolences for the victims and my closeness to their families and the wounded, I invite the authorities to listen to the cry of the people who are asking for a dignified and peaceful life,” said the Pope.
“I urge all Iraqis, with the support of the international community,” he continued, “to pursue the path of dialogue and reconciliation and to seek the right solutions to the challenges and problems of the country.”
Pope Francis also assured the nation’s people of his constant prayer that they “may find peace and stability after so many years of war and violence, in which they have suffered so much.”
“Where are Iraq’s riches?”
Bishop Shelmon Warduni, the President of Caritas Iraq, voiced his appreciation for the Pope’s appeal, in an interview with Vatican Radio.
The emeritus auxiliary bishop of Baghdad called on Iraq’s leaders to stop protecting their own interests and “their own pockets” but rather to think about their citizens who are poorly treated.
He urged the international community to pay attention to those poor people “who studied hard but can’t find work.”
Bishop Warduni said Iraqis are protesting to demand their rights be respected by “a government that exploits its own people.”
“How is it possible for Iraq to be so rich – so rich – but the people are still forced to cry out for work?” he asked.
“Where is Iraq’s money? Where are the riches of Iraq?”
Corruption breeding discontent
Widespread discontent over economic hardship and corruption sparked the first wave of protests earlier in October, in which 149 people were killed. A second wave of anti-government demonstrations began on Friday. At least 73 people have died since then.
The unrest is centered in Shiite-majority areas, and most of the anger seems directed at Shiite political parties and militias, which are often supported by neighboring Iran.