Louis Sako: A united Iraq to wrest Mosul from the Islamic State

The Primate of the Iraqi Church calls for unity over "divisions" and "independent entities". The idea of a Christian province in the Nineveh Plains shelved. Future uncertainty over "plans" of foreign powers. In Georgia Sako met the Pope and the Catholicos Ilia II. Francis and the Synod restore life and enthusiasm to the Chaldeans.


Baghdad (AsiaNews) - For the Iraqi nation and the Christian community the moment for  "unity" has come, a "life and death matter", as the future of the nation is pondered. Is not it time to talk about "divisions of the country" or "independent entities", not as long as Mosul and villages of the Nineveh plain are occupied.

This is what the Chaldean Patriarch Mar Raphael Louis Sako tells AsiaNews, returning to Baghdad from the trip to Georgia where he met Pope Francis and the leaders of the local Church - Catholic and Orthodox - praying together for peace. A task and a mission for Iraq, Syria and the entire region.

In Tbilisi, the meeting between the Pope and the Assyrian-Chaldean community in Georgia joined by one hundred faithful from the US, Canada, and Iraq took place in San Simon Bar Sabbae church. "A very emotional moment - says the Patriarch - and one of intense prayer." In the context of the ceremony, the congregation sang Chaldean and Aramaic hymns and prayers of vespers. In response, Francis recited a prayer composed for this special occasion.

During his visit to Georgia Mar Sako also met with the Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia Elijah II. A "historic" moment, he says, with a strong appeal "to unity, to the Church of the Apostles. He gifted us a portrait of St. George, symbol of protection; we reciprocated with a Chaldean cross, without the body of Christ as a symbol of resurrection".

Returning to the situation in Iraq, Chaldean primate says now it is time to "preserve unity", "to battle Daesh" [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, ed] and "clean up the territories" and lay the foundations for peace. Later it will be possible "to sit down and discuss the future." However, if divisions or personal interests, Christian or not, prevail "this will send a negative signal" to those at home and the international community.

According to the Chaldean Patriarch Iraq and the Middle East suffer the intrusion of different actors generating a "future full of ambiguity," – such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United States and Russia – none of whom have declared their real intentions.  Amid this confusion, the one thing that is clear is the desire of the Iraqi people "to stay together".  Despite this there are "others who do not want us to be autonomous, free to decide our own future", the fate of "four million displaced in Iraq alone". But also in Aleppo and Syria "they are playing a similar game." "People live in anguish - he adds - while there is no vision for the future."

In recent weeks he has spoken several times of the formation of Christian militias or the birth of a Christian enclave in the plain of Nineveh, a project supported in certain US circles but recently rejected by a vote by the Iraqi Parliament. "Right now - warns Mar Sako – it is better to be careful and not talk about these issues. We must await developments in Mosul and the Nineveh plain. There are already so many wars and divisions between the various Iraqi groups, but the main thing is to defend the principle of unity. "

What we are asking for, he adds, is to "liberate territories and ensure the return of people to their homes." And then for "a United Nations presence, perhaps in the form of UN blue helmets, to ensure the security and control".

In a climate of uncertainty and fear, the recent Chaldean Synod in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, and the meeting with the Pope in Georgia have returned unity given new life and new enthusiasm to the Chaldean Church and the Christian community. "It was like the Upper Room – says Mar Sako recalling the days of the Synod - in which there was an underlying unity. Everyone spoke freely then we voted and made decisions based on the majority. Decisions which then we all complied with, a sign of cohesion. " We are "stronger than before," he warns, and this unity is essential to keep the Church of the East alive not only among Chaldeans, but also between the various Christian denominations, including Catholics and Orthodox.

This peculiarity makes the Chaldean Church stronger "in the eyes of the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government." We are "the Christian authorities," explains Mar Sako, which has its own identity "just like the Shiite and Sunni communities," and that always works to "build" bridges.

"I have so much hope and I am optimistic - he concludes - because I saw the reality of Georgia, which in the past has experienced the tragedy of the war and is now a country that has made great progress. With peace you can do everything, if there is peace you can think about the future. " Even a papal visit to Iraq: "When I invited him to visit Iraq the Pope replied: 'Let us hope!'." (DS)