Jan 24, 2009

Report From Iraq

By Joel C. Rosenberg

Meeting with the Prime Minister of Kurdistan

Greetings from Mumbai (aka, “Bombay”). I’m here in the commercial capital of India and the site of the horrific terrorist attacks by Pakistani Islamic jihadists that killed more than 200 Indians at the famed Taj hotel, the Jewish “Chabad” center, and several other locations around this city. Today, I had the opportunity to visit several of these sites and pray for the survivors and for the families of those injured and killed. Currently, I’m on a two-week speaking tour throughout India with several dear friends, teaching Christian pastors, ministry leaders and lay leaders about “God’s love and plan for the people of Israel and the epicenter.” The last few days have been so wonderful, so full and so intense that I haven’t had a spare minute to write. I promise to write more about what I’m seeing and hearing very soon.

But first I wanted to let you know a little more about my five-day trip last week to northern Iraq. By God’s grace, I had the privilege of spending time with a number of key Iraqi Christian leaders to encourage them, pray with them, oversee the progress of The Joshua Fund’s work there, and develop future plans for blessing the poor and needy in Iraq and strengthening the Iraqi church. Several colleagues and I also had the privilege of meeting with His Excellency Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). It was a fascinating discussion that lasted about an hour, twenty minutes of which I conducted a formal interview of the Prime Minister on camera for the Inside The Revolution documentary film we’re producing.

The Prime Minister is one of the region’s very impressive up-and-coming young Reformers. Born in 1966, he is the grandson of the Mustafa Barzani, the legendary champion of Kurdish rights and leader of the Kurdish independence movement. He is a Sunni Muslim who is proud of his cultural and religious heritage. But he is also a strong supporter of a united, federal Iraq and is a devout believer in helping all of Iraq become what Kurdistan has become over the past several decades — a Jeffersonian democracy, where there are full protections for free and fair elections, the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion — including the right to choose another religion if one desires.

Prime Minister Barzani told me in no uncertain terms that he strongly opposes radical Islam. His first order of business when he came to power in 1997, he said, was to shut down a Saudi-funded college teaching Sharia law because he knew it would lead to jihadist violence and fan the flames of extremism. He shut down Saudi-backed madrassas (extremist elementary and secondary schools) throughout Kurdistan. Two years ago, he not only banned "honor killings" — the Muslim practice of murdering family members when they sin or embarass the family or convert to another faith — but has been waging a public educational campaign to convince the Muslim majority in Kurdistan that such killings are “dishonorable” and wrong.

What’s more, Prime Minister Barzani has been a strong and consistent protector of Iraqi Christians who have been badly persecuted elsewhere in the country. He has welcomed many such Christians to resettle in the Kurdish region (which includes three of Iraq’s eighteen provinces) and practice their faith freely. He has helped clear bureaucratic obstacles for Christians trying to set up businesses and build churches. He has praised Christians for doing humanitarian relief work among the Kurds. Indeed, he told me how grateful he is for the work Kurdish Christians, Iraqi Arab Christians, and evangelical followers of Jesus from around the world are doing to bless the people of Iraqi generally and Kurdistan in particular.

When I get back to the States, I will type up and post my full interview. But for now, let me just say what a pleasure it was to spend time with this impressive Iraqi leader, a true Reformer who is appreciative of his Islamic heritage but has become a real friend of the Christian community at a time when the Church has been quite embattled. Please pray for Prime Minister Barzani — for his protection, for him to have wisdom and discernment as he governs, for the Lord to show favor to him and his family and his administration as he protects Muslims, Christians, Jews and those of no faith. Please also pray that the model he is building in Iraqi Kurdistan would be soon be followed by leaders throughout all of Iraq, and even by other would-be Muslim Reformers throughout the region.