Card Sako speaks for Christians against attacks and lies by the Babylon Movement
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Rayan al-Kaldani, head of the Babylon Movement, a Christian political party in Iraq, recently launched a verbal attack against Card Louis Raphael Sako, head of Iraq’s Chaldean Church, and other Church leaders.
In response, Christians “gave a signal of strength” by taking to the streets “to protest for the first time” in their recent history, numbering “more than a thousand men and women, lay people and priests, with flags, olive branches, and songs,” said Cardinal Sako, patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans.
Despite the personal attack, the prelate remains optimistic and renews his enthusiasm despite the difficulties, inspired, among other things, by the visit of Pope Francis two years ago. “The pontiff gave voice to our community, which now walks holding its head held high. Despite being a minority, it shows all its vitality and the desire to assert its rights.”
Kaldani, a self-styled Christian leader backed by Shia groups linked to foreign powers, wants to set up a Christian enclave in the Nineveh Plains, taking advantage of his position since his party holds four of the five parliamentary seats reserved for Iraq’s Christian minority, while one of its members holds a cabinet post. Although set aside for Christians, non-Christians can also vote for those seats.
“Only one family is involved; that of Rayan al-Kaldani: his three brothers and two sons-in-law, who want to take over everything,” Card Sako told AsiaNews.
The show of grassroots support for the patriarch and the Chaldean Church at the recent rally in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square saw some tensions when counterdemonstrators from the Babylon Movement showed up. Card Sako’s supporters responded with their own slogans and songs, making their “voice” heard, as the patriarch himself emphasised.
“We have great spiritual, moral and patriotic strength which they do not have,” he said. “On the contrary, they rely on money and weapons. People stand in solidarity with us instead, not only Christians but Muslims too who condemn these attacks and lies.”
Support also came from “11 ambassadors of the European Union, the United States, other Christian religious leaders, including the Syriac Catholic bishop of Mosul and a letter from the Orthodox bishops”. All this “is a source of courage and will to resist.”
“We find ourselves struggling against a militia that acts like a state with money, soldiers and weapons. For 20 years, this has been Iraq’s weak point.” The country lacks authoritative governments and solid institutions that guarantee respect for the rule of law.
“For some people, this is some internal conflict among Christians, but that is not the case,” said a bitter patriarch.
In recent weeks, the clash between Chaldean Church leaders and “Rayan the Chaldean” is nothing new. The latter has been involved in controversial activities in the past, and has styled himself as the leader of the Christian community, weapons and all.
His party’s paramilitary militia, the “Babylon Brigades”, was created almost a decade ago to resist the Islamic State group in northern Iraq; since then it has become an economic and political force to reckon with.
“He wants an autonomous region with him at the helm,” explained Card Sako. The brigades are part of the “Popular Mobilisation [Forces], which are actually a Shia militia.” Kaldani has “a strong position with four MPs and the [Immigration] Ministry.”
Flushed with money and with loads of weapons, “he has now moved on to lies, accusing me of having sold Church assets and transferred millions of dollars to a bank account in Canada.” This is “an absurdity, but simple people can be hoodwinked; for this reason, I set off on a campaign to assert the truth of the facts.”
Kaldani’s way of thinking is not very shrewd; his aim is to conquer, which has led him to take over Nineveh, from Qaraqosh to Alqosh. This is dangerous because it could spark tensions and conflicts in the Kurdish region.
In recent weeks Babylon Movement’s leader has accused the cardinal of interfering in politics and damaging the reputation of the Church in Iraq by sympathising with Israel and visiting that country.
Card Sako also has some choice words for the Iraqi government, the prime minister and the weakness they are showing in this whole affair – within the Christian community, there is talk of boycotting the next elections.
“I do not see any strong reaction” from the government, and “I do not expect anything from that quarter. We are the ones who shall continue this struggle.”
On a positive note, the cardinal is convinced that the situation will raise “greater awareness and boost courage”, which is something new for Iraq’s Christians.