Iraq’s President Revokes Recognition of Cardinal Louis Sako

Iraqi President Abdul Rashid revoked a decree recognizing Cardinal Louis Sako as head of the Christian Church in Iraq.

Newsroom (17/07/2023 19:30Gaudium PressCardinal Louis Sako, the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, announced Saturday that he is withdrawing from his seat in Baghdad after Iraqi President Abdul Rashid revoked a decree recognizing him as head of the Christian Church in Iraq.

Sako said he will be taking up residence in a monastery in Kurdistan, an autonomous region of Iraq, where he will continue to lead the Chaldean Church.

In a statement issued July 15, Sako called the president’s action — which calls into question his ability to control Church assets in the country — “unprecedented” and “unfair.”

“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 an unprecedented political, national, and moral chaos, which is rooted by now more and more,” Sako wrote. “Therefore, I have decided to withdraw from the patriarchal headquarters in Baghdad.”

“I call on Christians to remain in their faith, which is their consolation, strength, light, and life, and on their national identity until the storm passes with the help of God,” Sako added. “May God help the helpless Christians and Iraqis.”

Sako, 75, is a member of the College of Cardinals, patriarch of Baghdad, and head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which has hundreds of thousands of members across the world.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern rite church in full communion with the Holy See.

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There are an estimated 300,000 Chaldean Catholics in Iraq, and, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report, they make up 80% of the Christian population in the country.

The pronouncement recognizing Sako as head of the Church in Iraq is known as “Republican Decree No. 147.” It was issued in 2013 by former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

According to the press office of the Chaldean Patriarchate, such proclamations have been issued since the Middle Ages and are still very common ways of recognizing the legitimacy of minority religions in the region today.

Rashid claimed that the decision to revoke the decree was made to correct a constitutional error since he says as president, he has no right to appoint or recognize religious leaders. Rashid claims that his revocation does not change Sako’s status as patriarch since he was duly elected and confirmed by Pope Francis.

Sako, however, claims he is being targeted by the president and that the decision was part of Christian minority leader Rayan al-Kildani’s effort to usurp his authority and gain control of Church offices and assets.

In a July 10 letter to the president, Sako said that he is appealing the decree’s revocation to Iraq’s judiciary. Sako told Rashid: “I believe the legal advice that was given to Your Excellency is incorrect and it wanted to undermine your stature and the Christian component.”

This is the latest development in an ongoing conflict between Sako and Kildani, who is known as “Rayan the Chaldean.” Kildani is a Christian Iraqi lawmaker and leader of the paramilitary group the “Babylon Brigades.”

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In his letter, Sako accused Kildani of extorting Christians in the Nineveh Plains.

“We have been suffering tremendously from the absence of any deterrent force against Babylon, as well as the government’s silence, followed by the unfair decision of the president’s in withdrawing the Republican Decree (147), an unprecedented [move] in Iraqi history,” Sako wrote.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned Kildani because he was engaged in “serious human rights abuses” in his capacity as head of a paramilitary group.

According to the Treasury Department, Kildani’s group “illegally seized and sold agricultural land” and “the local population has accused the group of intimidation, extortion, and harassment of women.” A video was circulated among human rights groups showing Kildani cutting off the ear of a handcuffed detainee, the Treasury Department’s report said.

  • Raju Hasmukh with files from CNA

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