Cablegate: Prt Dhi Qar Hosts Nuncio at Interfaith Provincial

DE RUEHGB #3493/01 3090228
R 040228Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

BAGHDAD 00003493 001.2 OF 002

1. (U) This is a PRT Dhi Qar reporting cable.

2. (SBU) Summary. The Papal Nuncio visited Ur on October 23
accompanied by senior Embassy officials. Although weather
conditions compressed the party's time on the ground, it had
the opportunity to meet with the small Christian community,
which has fallen on hard times, and join in a lunch with the
leading members of Dhi Qar's various communities, including
the Governor. Of particular significance was the presence of
Sayyid Majeed Thayef Al-Sahlani, the representative of
Ayatollah Sistani in the province. The visit demonstrated
that the leadership of Nasiriyah is interested in deepening
ties with the international community and is keen to play a
visible role in promoting good relations with Iraq's
religious minorities. It also suggests that PRTs can
successfully play a facilitating role in organizing
interfaith events. End summary.

3. (SBU) On October 23, the Papal Nuncio arrived in Tallil
on a whirlwind visit to Ur, the ruined city of Abraham and
Sarah. A cross-section of Dhi Qar's community leaders warmly
welcomed the Nuncio and his party at the reception rooms in
the shadow of Ur's 4,000 year-old Great Ziggurat. The Shia
religious establishment was represented by Sayyid Majeed
Thayef Al-Sahlani, representative of Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
in Dhi Qar, and Sayyids Thayef Al-Sahlani and Khalid
Al-Yaseri. Dhi Qar Governor Aziz Kadum Alwan Al-Ogheli
(ISCI) and LTC Falah Kadim, Commander of the Police Joint
Operations Center, represented the Provincial Government.
Sitting beside the Governor was Sheikh Talib al-Harbi, a
popular tribal leader considered by some of our contacts as a
possible candidate for governor in the next election, and his
retinue. Dhi Qar's small but prosperous Mandaean community
was represented by its Head, Dr. Samer Naeem Handal. The
Nuncio was particularly solicitous of the two Chaldean
Catholic families that comprise the remnant of Nasiriyah's
Christian community. The Nuncio had the opportunity to speak
with each set of community leaders, and appeared to
particularly enjoy his conversation with the Sayyids.

4. (SBU) Equally notable was the respectful and positive
interaction of the guests. After the Nuncio's departure,
Al-Sahlani, the representative of Ayatollah Sistani,
emphasized to Team Leader his respect for and fellowship with
the "old families" of the Mandaean and Christian communities,
who were very much part of Dhi Qar's social fabric. He
expressed an interest in working with the PRT to address the
needs of the poor in the community. The mutual respect
demonstrated by reception participants augured well for the
future of community relations and provided a glimpse into one
possible shape that Iraq's future could take. The presence
of the Shi'a clerics was in large part due to the
intercession of LTC Kadim, who conveyed the PRT's invitation
to them.

5. (SBU) The Chaldean Catholic community in Nasiriyah, never
numerous, fell onto particularly hard times twenty years ago.
Its two families are headed by Douglas Stanley, ironically
the Director of Nasiriyah's Islamic Bank, and the
construction entrepreneur Gamal Tobia , still considered a
newcomer in Nasiriya despite nearly a lifetime of residence.
Chaldean numbers - essentially the extended Stanley clan--
once constituted a sufficient population to justify a visit
by a priest twice a year. However, Iran-Iraq War deaths and
emigration reduced the community's number to less than a
dozen individuals, leaving behind the older generation, the
very young, and the handicapped. They worship in Basra once
a month.

6. (SBU) The Nuncio was accompanied by Gordon Senior Advisor
for Southern Affairs Gordon Gray, Deputy Political Counselor
and poloff. Low-key in his approach, the Nuncio demonstrated
personal charm and appeared comfortable while conversing with
guests and patient with the press. Evidently expecting an
inspection of the dry bones of a city abandoned more than two
millennia ago, he showed surprise at and appeared gratified
by the warmth and animation of the reception. With the
weather cutting the visit from five hours to two, the party
made a brief climb up the Ziggurat of Ur before departing
Tallil for Baghdad.

7. (SBU) Comment: The visit is the first by the current
Papal Nuncio to Nasiriyah and generated remarkable interest
among PRT contacts in Dhi Qar. Provincial community leaders
are keen on receiving diplomatic and other international
visitors and are quite capable of putting aside any
differences to do so. We realize, too, that such visits give
us credibility by opening doors to new ties, sources of
cooperation, or business opportunities. The respect we saw
at the reception gives us hope for the future of

BAGHDAD 00003493 002.2 OF 002

intercommunal dialogue in the province. We look forward to
identifying common interests to encourage further
bridge-building. Its success is also testament to the strong
reputation the PRT has built up in the province for being
even-handed between communities and supportive of community
priorities. End comment.

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