Shafaq News / The decision undertaken by President Abdullatif Rashid to rescind the presidential decree previously bestowed upon Cardinal Louis Sako, the esteemed Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and beyond, has instigated a contentious state of affairs. This consequential move led to the subsequent summoning of Sako to appear before the judiciary, which compelled him to transfer his religious authorities to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, thereby arousing considerable consternation and "anger" amongst the Iraqi Christian community.
The fervent reaction from the Christian populace has been characterized by vocal denouncements and condemnations, accompanied by earnest demands for the reversal of this decision. Recently, however, their expressions have acquired a more resolute tone, suggesting the potential for further developments to unfold.
President Rashid recently made the decision to revoke the validity of Presidential Decree No. 147 of 2013, which conferred upon Cardinal Sako the legal jurisdiction as the head of the Chaldean Church. This decision has generated vehement reactions and stirred a substantial amount of controversy within Iraqi circles.
In the most recent statement made by the President of the Republic during his meeting with the Chargé d'Affaires of the Vatican State Embassy in Iraq on Monday, it was asserted that the withdrawal of Patriarch Louis Sako's decree was motivated by a desire to rectify a constitutional situation. The aforementioned decree, it was clarified, had been issued without any constitutional or legal basis.
Elaborating on the matter, the spokesperson for the parliamentary bloc "Babylon," MP Duraid Jameel, expounded that the presidential decree was indeed unconstitutional, as explained by the presidency, due to the fact that it was not signed by the President himself but by his deputy, a prerogative not within the deputy's authority. He underscored that such decrees are specifically intended for state employees, and since Cardinal Sako holds a religious rank rather than a state position, the application of such a decree was considered an informal practice.
In contrast, it was pointed out that Sako's position as a religious figure appointed by the Vatican allows him to manage the endowments for which he is held accountable. Hence, despite the withdrawal of the decree, he will retain the responsibility of overseeing the Chaldean Church's endowments and will maintain his ecclesiastical rank and standing, ensuring no adverse impact on the administrative structure of the endowments.
Responding to Cardinal Sako's decision to relocate to Erbil, MP Jamil clarified that the Patriarch's dual headquarters in Baghdad and Erbil—used in accordance with seasonal changes—afford him the capability to manage the endowments regardless of the location, thus ensuring no detrimental consequences.
On another note, the head of the Rafidain coalition, Yonadam Kanna, opined that the presidency's argument for withdrawing the decree—citing a constitutional background—has been unsuccessful, as the constitution itself addresses this issue in articles 43 and 23. He emphasized that the cardinal or head of the sect is not an employee of the government but rather holds the responsibility of managing the sect's endowments, necessitating the utilization of such a decree for certain matters.
Kanna expounded that the existence of this decree dates back to the era of Najran, with historical records indicating its issuance by the Prophet Muhammad to the then-patriarch. Throughout subsequent periods, from the Abbasids to the Ottomans, the monarchy, and the previous regime, this decree has remained a recognized aspect of the ecclesiastical institution.
" Upon careful consideration, it becomes crucial for the presidency of the republic to thoroughly review its decision and propose an alternative decree, addressing not only the situation concerning His Beatitude the Cardinal but also extending to other sect leaders. This is essential given the potentially damaging impact on Iraq's reputation and the well-being of its Christian community.
Cardinal Louis Sako revealed that the Iraqi president's decision to withdraw the decree appears to have been influenced by the desires of Rayan al-Kaldani, the leader of the Christian "Babylon" faction affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces—a coalition of armed factions loyal to Iran and operating within the official forces. Al-Kaldani sought to secure the position of head of the church's endowments for himself, and furthermore, it is alleged that he attempted to place his brothers in significant positions.
For several months, tensions have escalated between Sako and al-Kaldani, with each accusing the other of attempting to exert control over the resources of the Christian community in Iraq. Al-Kaldani has criticized Cardinal Sako, asserting that he has taken on a "political" role, while Sako, in turn, has accused al-Kaldani of seeking to manipulate Christian representation.
Adding to the fervor of discontent, a letter of criticism and denunciation was addressed to the President of the Republic, signed by Bishop Thomas Merem from Urmia in Iran, Bishop Francis Galabat from Detroit, U.S.A., and Bishop Emmanuel Shalita from California, U.S.A. This letter was composed following religious ceremonies held in Istanbul, Turkey, attended by bishops representing various denominations from the U.S.A., Europe, Asia, and other regions.
Within the letter, the three bishops vehemently condemned the actions of the President, emphasizing that targeting the authority of the Chaldean Church—the highest ecclesiastical institution in Iraq and globally—constitutes an act of violence against their people and a blatant disregard for their sacred symbols. They voiced their deep disappointment in the President's decision, characterizing it as both unfair and irrational, and raised concerns about its potential to escalate into sectarian strife with grave consequences.
As the situation continued to escalate, the Vatican Embassy in Iraq issued a statement via the Chaldean Patriarchate website. The Embassy expressed remorse over the misunderstanding and ill-treatment regarding His Beatitude Patriarch Mar Louis Sako's role as trustee of the Chaldean Church's property. They also addressed the dissemination of certain misleading and biased accounts that had marginalized him, despite his esteemed standing as a religious leader.
In the midst of these unfolding events, President Abdul Latif Rashid held a meeting with the Charge d'Affaires of the Vatican Embassy, Father Charles Luanga Suuna. During this meeting, Father Suuna stressed that, according to the Iraqi constitution, the management of church property should continue to be exercised freely by the respective heads of the churches, with practical implementation through the Iraqi courts and government offices. The Embassy refrained from expressing any judgment regarding whether such guarantees could be secured through presidential decrees or through alternative appropriate means.
Providing further insights, a separate statement released by the presidency highlighted the meeting between President Abdellatif Rashid and the Charge d'Affaires of the Vatican Embassy. According to the statement, Father Charles Luanga Suuna refrained from offering any commentary on the presidential procedures related to the revocation of the presidential decree pertaining to Cardinal Louis Sako.