Iraqi Presidency Denounces US Concerns Over Cardinal Sako Amidst Tensions with Christian Movement

Iraqi Presidency Denounces US Concerns Over Cardinal Sako Amidst Tensions with Christian Movement

Shafaq News/ The Iraqi presidency has condemned the statements made by the US State Department expressing concern over the alleged "harassment" of Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch in Iraq.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Iraqi Presidency announced its intention to summon the US ambassador to Iraq in response to Washington's remarks regarding Cardinal Sako, who holds significant influence among the Christian minority in Iraq.

The dispute between Sako and Rayan al-Kaldani, the leader of the Christian "Babylon" movement and a figure associated with the Popular Mobilization Forces—an alliance of armed factions loyal to Iran integrated into the official forces—has intensified over the past months. Al-Kaldani has been subject to US sanctions since 2019 and holds positions in both Parliament and the government.

A new development occurred in July when President Abdul Latif Rashid revoked Decree No. 147 of 2013, which granted Cardinal Sako legal authority as the head of the Chaldean Church.

On Tuesday, Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the US State Department, condemned the alleged "harassment" of Cardinal Sako and expressed regret over his departure from Baghdad. Miller stated, "We are concerned that the Cardinal's position as a respected leader of the Church is being harassed from many quarters." He further added, "We look forward to his safe return. The Iraqi Christian community is a vital part of Iraq's identity and an essential pillar of Iraq's history, which is full of diversity and tolerance."

Responding to the US statements, the Iraqi Presidency expressed disappointment and emphasized that the revoked decree "was not under the law."

The statement asserted that the withdrawal of the decree in no way impedes Cardinal Sako from fulfilling his duties within the Chaldean Church or diminishes his authority.

The statement clarified that, constitutionally, the President of the Republic does not have the power to appoint or dismiss a religious leader chosen by the followers of a particular faith.

As Miller and the US State Department suggested, Reactivating the decree was deemed by the Iraqi Presidency as futile, flagrant, and a violation of the constitution.

The statement underscored that the Iraqi President has consistently respected the rights of Christians in Iraq.

Cardinal Sako argues that the decree enables him to manage the church's property and endowments. In protest against the withdrawal of the decree, he decided to leave the patriarchal residence in Baghdad and relocate to a monastery in the Kurdistan region.

Accusations of attempting to seize Christian resources have been exchanged between Sako and al-Kaldani in a country that has endured decades of conflict and struggles with corruption.

The Chaldean Church, one of Iraq's largest churches, has witnessed a decline in its population over the past two decades. It is estimated that the number of Christians does not exceed 400,000, significantly reduced from approximately 1.5 million due to wars and conflicts that prompted mass emigration.

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