Baghdad -- Chaldean patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, visited a hospital in Baghdad this morning to meet some of the hundreds of people wounded in anti-government protests.
"I was very impressed by these young people," said the cardinal, speaking to AsiaNews. "I met so many in the hospital: only 16, 17, some 20-year-old. They were there, in the protests, with their families, when they were wounded, some of them seriously. Among them are some Christians, but most are Muslim and were happy to meet me. They thanked me for the visit."
The hospital is far from the Patriarchate, in a different part of the capital. Braving the danger of getting caught up in protests, the Chaldean Patriarch visited the young people hurt in the weekend protests. On Friday and Saturday, about 74 people were killed in a violent flare-up that ended a two-week truce.
The total death toll since 1st October has topped 250 with over 9,000 wounded, noted the prelate. "Before leaving I met the medical director and offered some cash to buy some drugs."
During this morning's clashes, security forces fired tear gas at high school and university students, who, along with other protesters, took to the streets of the capital and southern cities despite an official ban on protests.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, whose position has become increasingly shaky since he came to power a year ago, has once again attacked protesters, threatening severe punishment for anyone who disrupts classes.
"No school, no classes, until the regime collapses!" shouted hundreds of boycotting students in Diwaniyah, 180 kilometres south of the capital with thousands of uniformed pupils and even professors flooding the streets. In the city, the local union of universities and schools announced a ten-day strike on Monday.
About 60 per cent of Iraq's 40-million-strong population is under the age of 25. Youth unemployment stands at 25 per cent. One person in five lives below the poverty line.
In addition to unemployment, there is a widespread feeling of insecurity, the perception of widespread corruption and the risk of renewed jihadi violence and military confrontation.
Protesters are demanding the dissolution of parliament, a provisional government to carry out the most urgent reforms, amendments to the Constitution and early elections under United Nations supervision. Four lawmakers resigned late yesterday in solidarity with protesters.
"I returned from this morning's visit with the wounded youth in my mind," said Card Sako. "These kids only want peace, a dignified life, a future and a job. They have no political agenda and are not motivated by religion."
"Most of the people in the streets were not even born or were very young when Saddam Hussein's regime fell, so today's political leaders cannot accuse them of complicity or manipulation."
Young people "are against a sectarian culture and want respect for human rights. Despite the deaths, wounded and violence, they are ready to continue. I told them that I am praying for them."
In order to be personally close to his fellow Iraqis and follow the situation, Patriarch Sako scrapped a planned visit to Hungary, where he was to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at a conference dedicated to the situation of Christians.
"I called religious leaders to propose a meeting. As pastors we must stay close to our people and pay attention to words that can be misinterpreted. We pray and hope against a background that is becoming increasingly difficult."