The Iraqi president has summoned the US ambassador to Baghdad following the US State Department’s criticisms regarding the government’s treatment of Louis Raphaël Sako, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
The State Department’s spokesman, Matthew Miller, criticized a decision by the Iraqi President, Abdul Latif Rashid, to revoke a 2013 decree that recognized Cardinal Sako as head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq and allowed him to oversee its assets.
“The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq is disappointed about the accusations leveled against the Iraqi government and the presidency regarding the decision to cancel a presidential decree that is not in line with the country’s constitution,” Iraq’s Presidential Office said in a statement. “So the presidency will summon the Ambassador of the United States of America in Baghdad on this issue.”
Sako was a key organizer in Pope Francis’ Iraq visit in 2021 and enjoys strong support from both the US and Europe, commonly being seen as a peacemaker in the nation.
Sako claims the decision was made at the behest of an Iraqi Christian Militia leader with ties to Iran, further stating that he would leave his residence in Baghdad and relocate to a monastery in Kurdistan.
Miller further supported this claim, saying in a statement, “We are concerned that the cardinal’s position as a respected leader of the church is under attack from a number of quarters, in particular a militia leader who is sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act,” referring to Rayan al-Kildani, a lawmaker and leader of the Christian Babylon Movement, a party and militia affiliated with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces, a network of largely pro-Iran paramilitaries that were integrated into Iraqi security forces.
Rashid, however, claims the move was simply to correct a constitutional anomaly, claiming presidents had no business recognizing heads of religious establishments. He further stated that the move was not aimed at undermining Sako, whom Rashid said he respects.
The Vatican said on Monday it “regrets the misunderstandings and inappropriate dealings concerning the role of Sako as the custodian of the properties of the Chaldean Church.”
Iraq’s Christians once numbered around 1.5 million, but the community has been reduced to the low hundreds of thousands following the 2003 U.S. invasion and the years of Islamic extremist killings that followed. The community, which is one of the oldest in the world, was decimated first by al Qaeda’s rise in the early 2000s and later by the Islamic State, the extremist group that has brutally persecuted Christians and other minority faiths from 2014–2017. It has struggled to recover since Islamic State’s 2017 defeat, plagued by high unemployment and the difficulty of returning to historical Christian areas, some of which remain controlled by militias.