Iraqi president withdraws recognition of Chaldean Catholic Church patriarch in Iraq

Iraqi president withdraws recognition of Chaldean Catholic Church patriarch in Iraq
A political row in Iraq intensified after the president withdrew the special presidential decree for accrediting the top Chaldean patriarch in the country.  
3 min read
13 July, 2023
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Iraqi Catholic Patriarch, during his election as cardinal celebrated by Pope Francis in the Vatican. [Getty]

Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, threatened to head to the judiciary if Iraqi President Abdullatif Jamal Rashid did not withdraw his recent decision to cancel a special presidential decree accredited Sako a decade ago.

Rasheed, 79, a Kurd from the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), recently issued republican decree number 31 by which he decided to withdraw republican decree number 147 for the year 2013, which is about the accreditation of Patriarch Sako in Iraq.

Republican decree number 31 was published in Iraq's formal newspaper Al-Waqaei Al-Iraqiya, edition 4727, on 3 July; hence the decree has been officially put into practice.

On 7 July, Rashid clarified that he had decided to annul special presidential decree 147 for 2013, describing it as "illegal and unconstitutional". 

The decree was issued by Jalal Talabani, the former president of Iraq and former secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who passed away in 2017.

Rashid also said that cancelling the presidential decree does not affect the legal and religious status of Sako as he has been appointed as the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq by the Vatican pope; moreover, the step was taken as other representatives of other religious ethics have asked for issuing "similar illegal presidential decrees".

In an open letter to Rashid on Monday, Sako described the latter's decision as an unprecedented "danger" against the Christian component in Iraq. He warned that if the president did not withdraw his decision, he would file a legal taunt against it.

"Did those who came before you from the royal and the republican eras, especially late Mam Jalal's decree, were wrong, and you have come to correct it?" Sako inquired in his letter. Talabani is better known by Iraqis as "Mam Jalal". 

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The New Arab contacted Sako's office for comment. The office told TNA that Sako thinks the Iraqi president's decision resulted from "political pressure from Ryan the Chaldean". The office also reasserted that the president does not withdraw his decision; Sako will go to the judiciary soon.

TNA also contacted Soran Jamal Tahir, PUK's spokesperson, but he was not immediately available to comment.

Another PUK politburo member declined to comment on the issue when contacted by TNA, hinting that the issue "Has nothing to do with the PUK."   

Sako was subject to attacks on social media after he criticized Rayan the Chadian ( Al-Kildani), the leader of the Babylon Movement, a party holding four of the five seats reserved for Christians in Iraq's parliament.

Al-Kildani is subject to US Treasury sanctions related to his role as head of the 50th Brigade of the Popular Mobilization Forces, based in Iraq's strategic Nineveh Plains region.

An official from the Christian Endowment Diwan in Baghdad, speaking to TNA's Arabic sister website, Al- Araby Al-Jadeed, on condition of secrecy, said that the Iraqi president had made his decision "under political pressures from other Christian sides, namely Rayan the Chadian".     

Ano Jawhar, a Christian Minister of Transport and Communication in the Kurdistan Regional Government, in an open letter to the Iraqi president, has said the president's decision "is not justifiable" and that the Iraqi Christians are "under threat" due to the president, and his Iran-backed allies.    

Sako was born in 1948 in Zakho town of the Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq. Sako was officially raised to a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis on 28 June 2018.