Congressmen Urge Baghdad to Reinstate Cardinal Sako, Drop Charges Against Him

“We write to implore you to reinstate official recognition” of Cardinal Sako as "head of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world," restore his "authority to administer the Chaldean endowment, and withdraw or dismiss the unjust charges of defamation brought against him.”
The US Capitol building in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP/Jewel Samad)
The US Capitol building in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP/Jewel Samad)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) –Two Congressmen from the state of Michigan, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, have called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani to restore Iraq’s official recognition of Cardinal Louis Sako as head of the Chaldean Church in Iraq.

They also cited the order that Iraq’s High Judicial Council issued on July 12 against the Christian leader, demanding that he appear in court on charges of defamation. The two Congressmen called for that order to be withdrawn or dismissed.

That order was issued just nine days after Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid withdrew official recognition of Sako’s position, prompting the senior cleric to flee to the Kurdistan Region. 

Read More: U.S. Slams Baghdad for Mistreatment of Catholic Leader; Welcomed in the Kurdistan Region

It is difficult to understand the action of the Iraqi president—although officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) did advise him against it. 

Moreover, rather than back off from what he had done, Rashid, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), appeared to double-down on his initial move, attacking the U.S., after it criticized his harassment of Cardinal Sako. 

Read More: Iraqi president to summon US envoy over remarks regarding Chaldean patriarch

Iran’s ‘Judicial Coup’—and the Influence it Brings

However, the action of the Iraqi court is readily explained. Already in early 2022, Iran succeeded in suborning the Iraqi judiciary, as described by Michael Knights, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Calling it a “judicial coup,” Knights explained how Esmail Qaani, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), met with the head of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Faiq Zaydan, under the auspices of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in January 2022.

That meeting and the suborning of the Iraqi judiciary that followed led to a protracted stalemate in the formation of an Iraqi government after the 2021 elections. It also led to the denial of the Iraqi presidency to Hoshyar Zebari. A member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Zebari was Iraq’s first foreign minister after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Before that, he was a prominent figure in the Iraqi opposition—eminently qualified to be Iraq’s president, but that was never offered to him.

Read More: Hoshyar Zebari: Iraq is in crisis and the US must be more engaged

The Iraqi measures against Sako are being taken on behalf of another Christian figure, Rayan al-Kildani, who heads a Christian militia, the 50th Brigade, which is associated with the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF.) 

The U.S. sanctioned Kildani in 2019 for his brutality. The year before, a video had appeared showing Kildani cutting off the ear of a prisoner!

For those who know the two Kurdish leaders, it is inconceivable that Zebari would act against Sako on behalf of Kildani, as Rashid has done. Thus, Iran seems to have done well in regard to the Iraqi presidency.

The PUK has long been relatively close to Iran and even more so since 2017, with the death of its founder and long-time leader, Jalal Talabani.

Talabani was succeeded as head of the PUK by his oldest son, Bafel, and Bafel is close to Kildani, as an informed source advised Kurdistan 24.

Rep. Slotkin and Rep. Moolenaar Letter to Sudani

On Monday, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan, and Rep. John Moolenaar, a Republican from Michigan, wrote to Sudani about Iraq’s mistreatment of the Chaldean patriarch.

“We write to implore you,” their letter says “to reinstate official recognition” of Cardinal Sako “as the head of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world, restore Patriarch Sako’s authority to administer the Chaldean endowment, and withdraw or dismiss the unjust charges of defamation brought against him.”

They noted that on July 3, Rashid withdrew Iraq’s official recognition of Sako’s status. Nine days later, following on Rashid’s move, “the Iraqi High Judicial Council issued an order for Patriarch Sako to appear in court on charges of defamation and stated that failure to appear within 48 hours of the court order’s issuance would result in a warrant for the Patriarch’s arrest,” the two Congressmen explained. 

Of course, Cardinal Sako did not follow that dubious and dangerous order. Instead, he went to Erbil, where he was warmly welcomed by the most senior of Kurdish leaders. 

Read More: KDP President Masoud Barzani receives Chaldean Church Patriarch

Indeed, in meeting the Cardinal in Erbil on Sunday, Masoud Barzani, head of the KDP, expressed his hope that Rashid would review and correct his decision.

However, there has not been the least indication that Rashid is inclined to do so. It is, thus, difficult to escape the conclusion that this is politics, and Rashid is merely repaying some debt—whether his own or the PUK’s more broadly.