Card Sako forced to leave Baghdad and move to Erbil
Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako slams the "deliberate and humiliating campaign" by the Babylon Brigades, a pro-Iranian Christian militia, announcing that he is moving to a monastery in Iraqi Kurdistan. After he urged Christians to maintain their national identity, some held rallies in various cities to show support for him. According to experts, an attempt is underway to undermine the neutrality of the Christian community amidst Iraq’s ongoing political chaos.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The highest authority of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, has been forced to leave the patriarchal see in Baghdad and move to a monastery in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, via Istanbul.
This is a direct consequence of the "deliberate and humiliating campaign" against the Chaldean patriarch by the Babylon Brigades, a pro-Iranian Christian militia.
Such persecution is compounded by the decision of Iraq’s president to withdraw “the Republican Decree (147), an unprecedented [act] in Iraqi history”, Card Sako says in a statement in Arabic and English posted on the patriarchate's website.
A few days ago, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid withdrew what could be called the "institutional recognition" of the office of the patriarch.
Mr Rashid repealed Decree 147 issued by his predecessor Jalal Talabani on 10 July 2013, which recognised the cardinal’s pontifical appointment as head of the Chaldean Church "in Iraq and in the world" and therefore "responsible for the assets of the Church".
Rayan al-Kildani (Rayan the Chaldean), a self-styled Christian leader who heads the Babylon Brigades, wants to seize Church assets, sources say, a point Card Sako makes in his statement.
"I made this decision so that, the protector of the constitution and the keeper of the beautiful Iraqi fabric achieves Babelyon’s desire to issue a decree appointing Rayan Salem Doda (Babelyon) as Custodian of the Endowments of the Church," reads the statement.
The latter goes on to explain that relatives of “the Chaldean” would be put in charge of the patriarchate.
"It is unfortunate that we in Iraq live in the midst of a wide network of self-interest, narrow factionalism, and hypocrisy that has produced unprecedented political, national and moral chaos, which is taking root by now more and more," Cardinal Sako writes.
Despite the situation, he urges Christians to maintain their faith in God and keep their national identity “until the "storm passes with the help of God."
The decision of the Iraqi government deprives the patriarch of immunity as a religious leader and the right to represent the faithful, while the Babylon Brigades enjoy representation in the Iraqi parliament.
According to the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Arab, al-Kildani wants to include the Christian question in its political agenda and use it “in the service of the militias that control Iraq behind whom is Iran", unlike the patriarch who has always tried to "preserve the independence of the Chaldean Christian community.”
According to the governor of Wasit, Muhammad Jamil al-Mayahi, Cardinal Sako "is a symbol of unity and brotherhood, and his departure from Baghdad is a loss for all of us."
Meanwhile, in the cities of Karamlesh and Erbil Iraqi Christians have rallied in support of the Chaldean patriarch.
"The entire Christian community of Iraq is threatened, and Chaldean and Syriac Assyrians have united to affirm their support for the patriarch of the Chaldean Church," said several associations, such as the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Popular Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Council, the House of Mesopotamia (Bet-Nahrain) Patriotic Union, the Sons of Mesopotamia (Bnay Nahrain) Party, and the Assyrian Patriotic Party.