04/16/2024, 00.00
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Card. Sako: Iraq 'overwhelmed' by 'absurd' conflict between Israel and Iran

by Dario Salvi

Chaldean Patriarch calls for joint efforts to "ease" an escalation with "devastating" consequences. The Iraqi premier in Washington for a strenuous search for stability. The cardinal's satisfaction at returning to the capital after months of voluntary exile in protest against the withdrawal of the presidential decree. The promise of an inter-religious prayer for peace. 

Milan (AsiaNews) - The "fear" that Iraq too could be "overwhelmed" by an all-out conflict between Israel and Iran is "strong" not only because of the repercussions on a regional and global scale, but for the country's own internal balance. There are in fact "militias that do not obey the prime minister", furthermore "our territory can be the object of Israeli attacks against Iranian targets" or be used by Tehran "as a launching base to strike Israel".

The Patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, Card. Louis Raphael Sako, who watched with attention - and more than one fear - the massive drone and missile operation from the Islamic Republic towards the Jewish State on the night of 13-14 April. Hence the call, in this interview with AsiaNews on his return to Erbil after a few days in the capital interrupting a forced - and self-imposed - exile of many months, for "international mediation". Only in this way, he warns, will it be possible to 'ease the escalation and a crisis with devastating consequences'. 

"Absurd wars"

In the most agitated stages of the Iranian attack on Israel, retaliation to the raid on Tehran's embassy in Damascus in which several elements of the Pasdaran died including General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, dozens of drones (and missiles) flew over Iraqi airspace.

In their trajectory towards the Jewish State, they passed through the southern provinces of Maysan and Al-Nasiriyah, as well as the northern area in Kurdistan, particularly Erbil, Sulaymaniyya and Dohuk.

In response, the government - as in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan - ordered the closure of airspace on a temporary and precautionary basis, then traffic resumed regularly over the next few hours, although attention remained high.

"What is happening between Israel and Iran, but also that between Russia and Ukraine - underlines the Chaldean Primate - are all absurd wars, there is no sense. Even in the Holy Land, in Gaza, there are already over 33,000 dead, a carnage'.

The parties involved, he continues, must "respect international law" bearing in mind that these victims "are not objects, but people: this is a massacre that also involves infrastructure, homes, schools and hospitals". 

Card. Sako has experienced first-hand wars from the one between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s to the two conflicts in the Gulf, confessional violence and the rise of the Islamic State just to mention the most significant events. In 50 years as priest, bishop and then patriarch, he has seen innocent blood spilled, personally spending himself for peace, dialogue, the silent work of diplomacy in the face of the din of weapons.

"I called the seminarians," he recounts, "the night of the attack to tell them not to be afraid" and that, in the institute in Ankawa, "we set up a large room as a refuge". "I hope," he continues, "in the face of the prospect of an escalation between Israel and Iran that threatens to engulf the Middle East and the entire world in the clash of opposing alliances, that regional [and global] leaders will be guided by wisdom and prudence. The priority must be to avert a widening of the war, which is in the interest of neither Israel, nor Iran, nor any regional actor. Everyone loses in this war'. 

A weak and divided West

In the meantime, international diplomacy is moving in an attempt to contain a military drift with disastrous consequences, with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani himself involved, who has arrived in Washington in the last few hours to meet US President Joe Biden.

At the centre of the discussion is a series of issues ranging from the Iranian attack to the laborious search for regional stability, from economic cooperation between the United States and Iraq to the further deployment of troops for defensive purposes.

For the Iraqi government, however, the priorities remain energy and bilateral trade to revive the economy of a country that still seems to be marking time, with the Baghdad executive engaged in the delicate balance between the West and Tehran.

Analysts and experts recall how the escalation represents a significant security challenge for the Middle East, with potential ramifications on various fronts that risk being "indirectly involved" in the game between the Jewish State - which has sworn revenge - and the ayatollahs. And Iraq is one of the nations on the front line, along with Jordan and Lebanon, in facing dangers and complexities.

The return to Baghdad

In a context of uncertainty, war and tensions, it is a source of great joy to return to Baghdad last week after more than nine months of voluntary exile due to the clash with the president of the Republic over the withdrawal of the presidential decree. "It was very good to return," the cardinal says, "after having carried out this peaceful but firm battle based on justice. The Christians celebrated, everyone was very happy, but the most beautiful thing was seeing the cathedral packed with the faithful and full of flowers, chocolates, hallelujah songs, sweets.

Many Muslims were also present, authorities and ordinary citizens, men and women, as a sign of a symbolic unity that has a profound value. This means,' he warns, 'that the Iraqis are united, while the problem is in the political class'.

From this "firm and peaceful" protest [concepts that he reiterates repeatedly and forcefully] it emerges that the Church "must not be afraid, while here at home there are some bishops or priests who are sometimes fearful or are lured by those who promise them power or money". "We must be transparent," he warns, "all the more so because we are consecrated, leaving earthly goods aside, otherwise we end up losing our credibility".

Critical elements remain, such as the latent division between some Christian denominations and the position of the apostolic nuncio "who defended the State and not the Church". However, the gaze and the commitment of the Chaldean Patriarch - who has returned to Erbil for a few days to finish some pending work - are projected to the future: "I am waiting for the decree to be officially reinstated," he concludes, "and then I will make a permanent return to Baghdad. And as a first initiative, I would like to promote an interfaith prayer for peace with Muslim leaders and political leaders, with everyone!". 


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