ROME — In the weeks following the withdrawal of the Republican Decree by Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid recognizing his authority over the Chaldean Church Endowment, Roman Catholic Cardinal and Patriarch of the Chaldean Church Mar Louis Raphael Sako has found himself at the forefront at the battle for the survival of the Christian communities in Iraq. The Patriarch discussed the precarious situation of Christians in Iraq and the role Rome can play in an interview with Dario Salvi for AsiaNews.
The Patriarch’s decision to temporarily relocate the patriarchal seat from Baghdad to Erbil was an act of protest against the annulment of the decree, a move that disregarded centuries of tradition and stripped the Patriarchate of its traditional role and authority.
The heart of the issue revolves around control over properties coveted by self-styled Christian leader Rayan al-Kildani, leader of the so-called Babylon Movement, who has been sanctioned by the United States.
Ostensibly a Chaldean Catholic political movement, in truth, the Babylon Movement is a fringe faction that chiefly represents the personal interests of Rayan al-Kildani. Backed by Iran, the group has strong connections to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Badr Organization. Its military wing, the Babylon Brigades (also called Brigade 50), was created by Kata’ib al-Imam Ali, which is under Iranian control. Despite advertising itself as a Chaldean Catholic and Christian unit, the organization consists mainly of Shia Arab and Shabak troops.
Tensions escalated between the Babylon Movement and Patriarch Sako due to the Patriarch’s rejection of the expropriation of Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian property by the group and its allies.
The current situation threatens to further unravel the already strained peace and coexistence in the country. Patriarch Sako even contemplated boycotting the upcoming elections in response to these developments.
During the interview, the Patriarch emphasized that the root cause of this crisis is an agenda aimed at silencing the Church’s voice and undermining his leadership:
“In these 10 years as patriarch, I have always defended human rights, without distinction of faith or ethnic-religious affiliation, I have tried to protect Christians and I have never wanted to justify the formation of a so-called ‘Christian’ militia. I rejected all this, hence the purpose of revenge on the part of a faction [Rayan al-Kildani’s Babylon Brigades] that has an ulterior motive: to push Christians to leave, to make them emigrate in order to take possession of their homes, goods, property.”
Stating that the campaign also seeks to create instability and opposes the concept of equal citizenship, Patriarch Sako remarked, “There is no will to build a state based on law and justice, but confusion and anarchy prevail.”
The Patriarch’s concerns extend beyond the overt violence of the Islamic State (ISIS) to a more subtle yet equally serious threat — a campaign to drive Christians out of Iraq. “This is another style, another method perhaps more hidden and subtle but with the same objective: to push Christians to leave,” he said. “A different approach from ISIS, but with the same underlying logic.”
Regarding Rome’s silence in the face of this crisis, Patriarch Sako expressed his disappointment:
“I am disappointed by the position of the Holy See, which in almost five months has not intervened to disavow the actions of the President of [of Iraq], to reject the attacks against the person of the Patriarch, to distance itself from those who call themselves Christian leaders.
Complaints are filed against me on an almost weekly basis in the courts, and in the coming days I will have to appear in court and will not be able to attend the Rencontres Méditerranéennes in Marseilles. I wrote to Pope Francis after Rayan’s visit to the Vatican, he has still not replied. We are a persecuted Church, for a long time … fighting to survive but to do this we also need support, closeness, solidarity.”
As the Synod scheduled for October in Rome approaches, Patriarch Sako remains hopeful that it can provide an opportunity to address this crisis:
“The Synod can still be of help in finding a solution. The Church must show its presence, its closeness, it must find the word that has been sorely lacking until now. The Church is its believers.”