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Breaking bread in Iraq

An Anglican priest is getting Iraq's religious leaders to talk to one another – a step toward reconciliation.

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This week, key Iraqi religious leaders are meeting in Cairo to discuss what they can do about violence shredding their country. The press was not invited, since a certain amount of cover was required to assemble this diverse group. That they're gathering is itself remarkable, and welcome.

The coming together is largely thanks to the persistent effort of an Anglican priest, Canon Andrew White, who has lived in Baghdad for nearly a decade. Not illness, death threats, nor lack of funds has deterred Canon White from his drive to involve Iraq's clerics – from Muslims to its dwindling minority faiths – in unifying the country.

Religious and political issues in Iraq are inextricably linked, and it makes sense to find a way to formally engage Iraq's spiritual leaders in reconciliation.

Not that the Cairo gathering will delve into the theological divide of whether Shiites or Sunnis are the rightful heir to the prophet Muhammad.

White's goal for this week is far more modest and sensible: to get Iraq's senior clergy to endorse a pledge to reduce violence, denounce Al Qaeda, and deny terrorism, and to support democratic principles, the Iraqi Constitution, and national unity.

Such a commitment was made in Baghdad in June by less senior religious leaders that included Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians, some of them antagonists and perpetrators of violence. The June meeting was the largest such gathering in Iraq in nearly four decades, and it took more than two years for White (with the eventual help of the Pentagon) to pull it off.

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