ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (RUDAW) – Days after the president of Iraq revoked a decree that formally recognized him as Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako on Saturday announced he is relocating from Baghdad to the Kurdistan Region.
“I decided to withdraw from the patriarchal residence in Baghdad… to one of the monasteries in the Kurdistan Region,” read a statement from Sako.
He said his decision was due to the “intentional and offensive” campaign by the Babylon Brigades and the revocation of the presidential decree, which he called “unprecedented” in the history of Iraq.
Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid on July 3 revoked a special presidential decree of 2013 that granted Sako powers to administer Chaldean endowment affairs and officially recognized him as the head of the Chaldean Church. Rashid’s decision came after he met with Rayan al-Kildani, leader of the nominally Christian Babylon Movement, a party and militia affiliated with the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The Iraqi presidency in a statement on Wednesday defended the decision to revoke the presidential decree, saying it had no basis in the constitution since presidential decrees are issued only for those who work in governmental institutions, ministries, or governmental committees.
“Certainly, a religious institution is not considered a governmental one, the cleric in charge is not considered an employee of the state, in order to issue a decree for his appointment,” read the presidential statement.
Cardinal Sako was appointed head of the Chaldean church by the pope in the Vatican. It was he who organized the historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq in 2021.
On Saturday, Erbil’s Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda said in a press conference that it is not clear why the president revoked the decree recognizing Sako. “Was this revocation at the will of the president as mentioned in subsequent presidential statements?”
He also asked why church leaders were not informed in a friendly manner before the president made his decision. “The issuance of this decree in this manner is considered targeting the patriarch personally and the Chaldean church,” he said.
Sako and the Babylon Movement’s Kildani, who is accused of being the driving force behind the revocation of the presidential decree, have long been involved in a war of words, with the patriarch condemning the militia leader as an individual who does not represent the interests of Christians despite his party winning four of the five quota seats assigned for Christians in the 2021 Iraqi parliamentary election. His candidates were extensively and openly backed by Shiite political forces affiliated with Iran.
Kildani has accused Sako of getting involved in politics and damaging the reputation of the Chaldean Church.
On Saturday, Kildani released a statement accusing Sako of moving to the Kurdistan Region “to escape facing the Iraqi judiciary in cases brought against him.”
Kildani also rejected Sako’s labeling his movement as a brigade. “We are a political movement and not brigades. We are a political party participating in the political process and we are a part of the Running the State Coalition,” read the statement.
On Thursday morning, Christians in the town of Ainkawa in northern Erbil protested the president’s move against Cardinal Sako, which they dubbed a “clear and utter violation” against their community.