Aug 24 2013
By Basem al-Rikabi
Azzaman, August 24, 2013
The southern Province of Dhi Qar has created a key position to be filled by a member of one of the country’s most ancient communities known as Mandeans or the Sabeans.
The new position was announced by Governor Yahya al-Naseri who described it as a gesture that his administration was keen to preserve the community, whose numbers have plunged in less than two decades to nearly 5,000 from 100,000.
Most Sabeans, who have traditionally spoken a variety of Aramaic, used to live in Dhi Qar and its once fabulous marshlands where water was abundant.
Dipping in water or baptism is part of daily rituals for the Sabeans and for centuries they have been Iraq’s best canoe builders and trusted goldsmiths.
It is not clear how many Sabeans remain in the province but governor made the statement about the new post in the presence of the community’s spiritual leader Sheikh Sattar Jabbar al-Hulu.
Hulu himself has immigrated with his family to Australia, fleeing a wave of kidnapping and killing directed at his community. More than 800 Sabeans were killed in the years since the 2003-U.S. invasion.
“The sons and daughters of Sabeans are an important and basic social component of the province. It is our responsibility to boost their presence and preserve their history and tradition,” the governor said.
Naseri said the provincial council has agreed to create the post of “adviser for Sabeans affairs” to Dhi Qar’s governor. “I have asked the head of the community to nominate a member to fill in the post. The person will be part of my administration,” he added.
Hulu said his visit was to meet Naseri and congratulate him on his nomination as governor and discuss with him the problems his community faces in the province.
He specifically referred to Souq al-Sheyoukh, a district bordering Iraqi marshlands and traditionally a center of the Sabeans in Iraq.
It was not known exactly where the religion was born, though their leaders trace it to Mesopotamia and date it to pre-Christian times.
Their holding of John the Baptist, a Jewish prophet, as a key saint, they say, is due to their displacement from Mesopotamian to Jerusalem and then back to Iraq, the country of their origin.
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