07/12/2023, 21.19
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President ends recognition of Chaldean patriarch, putting Christian assets at risk

The Iraqi president scraps a 2013 decree signed by his predecessor, the late Jalal Talabani, giving official recognition to the patriarch as the head of the Chaldean Church. For President Rashid it is a "constitutional" matter that changes nothing to the patriarch’s status. In fact, what is at stake are the Church assets. A source told AsiaNews that the decision came after the president met with Rayan the Chaldean, a self-styled Christian leader backed by Shia militias.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – After experiencing violence and persecution in the recent past, new clouds are gathering over the future of Christians in Iraq, and now threaten the highest Christian authority in the land, the Chaldean Patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako.

Recently, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid issued a decree ending the “institutional recognition" of the office the cardinal holds. This was done by repealing Decree 147, signed by Mr Rashid’s predecessor, the late Jalal Talabani, on 10 July 2013, which recognised the patriarch’s appointment by the Holy See as head of the Chaldean Church "in Iraq and the world" and thus, “responsible for the assets of the Church".

The latter aspect is what matters. “Someone wants to take control over the assets and properties held by Christians and the Church,” a source told AsiaNews.

Following the decision, President Rashid tried to clarify his decision. His Office issued a statement saying: “Withdrawing the republican decree does not prejudice the religious or legal status of Cardinal Louis Sako, as he is appointed by the Apostolic See as Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world.”

The press release goes on to say that, “the abolition of the Presidential Decree is intended to correct the situation. A constitutional or legal basis was not provided for the issuance of Presidential Decree No. 147 of 2013.” At the same time, it says that Card “Sako is highly valued by the Presidency of the Republic” as “Patriarch of the Chaldean Church throughout the world”.

However, the president's decision strips the Chaldean leader of the right to administer Church assets, which are the target of Rayan "the Chaldean" and his Babylon Brigades. “It is no coincidence that the president's decision came a few days after he met Rayan, the self-styled Christian leader,” the source told AsiaNews.

Some people want to intervene, command, and expropriate what belongs to Christians. For over 100 years, the patriarch, after his papal appointment, had his office recognised by decree; by the king (when Iraq was a monarchy) and then the president, upholding his status as head of the Church and custodian of its properties."

With the removal of the presidential decree, the primate "”will likely lose control over the [Church’s] assets and properties,” but Card Sako "is determined to fight and is already studying ways to appeal in court so that the law prevails and justice is done.”

As significant as the controversy over the presidential decree is, it is but the latest in a series of attacks against the most authoritative and respected figure of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, a trend that has sparked a backlash among Christians against what many see as lies.

It also follows a verbal attack by Rayan al-Kaldani, head of the Babylon Movement, against Patriarch Sako and other Church leaders.

Backed by Shia factions linked to foreign powers (i.e. Iran), the self-styled Christian leader wants to create an enclave in the Nineveh plain using his power base, which includes four Members of Iraq’s parliament (out of five reserved for the minority)[i] and a government ministry.

Set up to fight the Islamic State group, his Babylon Brigades have become economically and politically powerful. But in northern Iraq (Mosul and Nineveh Plain), they have encountered strong resistance from local bishops who are highly critical of the minority quota system, and fully support the cardinal's battle. The prelates are prepared even to go so far as to call on Christians to boycott the next election.

In May the Chaldean primate even suggested that he might turn to international tribunals to protect the right distribution of parliamentary seats. Nevertheless, his positions have attracted increasingly harsh attacks against himself and the Church by people close to the Babylon Movement, which in turn has pushed hundreds of Christians - priests and faithful - to take to the streets in solidarity with the cardinal.

In a joint statement sent to AsiaNews, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Popular Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Council, the Betnahrain Patriotic Union, the Nahrain Sons Party, and the Assyrian Patriotic Party pledge their support for the patriarch.

This closeness goes beyond respect for his religious authority and the Church, but concerns the latter’s "status as a religious institution that represents an important part of Iraqi society.”

Reacting to the president’s decision, the various Christian groups say that it is “not very reassuring" to see Decree 147 repealed given its "negative repercussions", which come “on top of direct attacks" on Christians, including “displacement, assassinations of members of the clergy and civilians, kidnappings, church bombings, and demographic shifts.”

"As national parties, we reject this decision,” because it will allow "the manipulation of Church assets by influential and corrupt parties who clearly want to seize them.”

[i] The five seats are reserved for Christians but non-Christians can vote for them.

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See also
Patriarch Sako ends exile, meets with the authorities in Baghdad
11/04/2024 18:22
Chaldean Patriarch: Synod should pay special attention to Oriental Churches
07/09/2023 14:42
Card Sako forced to leave Baghdad and move to Erbil
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Card Sako: from Baghdad cathedral to Qaraqosh, the martyrdom of Iraqi Christians
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Card Sako speaks for Christians against attacks and lies by the Babylon Movement
17/05/2023 21:02


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