Baghdad – More than two hundred Christians gathered in Tahrir Square, in the center of Baghdad, on the evening of Friday May 12, to show their solidarity with Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, who became the subject of smear campaigns on social media in recent weeks. The “solidarity demonstration”, also included nuns and priests who, like the others present, waved Iraqi flags, candles, olive branches and banners bearing inscriptions calling on the authorities to intervene to ensure that the electoral seats reserved for Christians in the Iraqi parliament are not in fact occupied by groups linked to the main parties. The participants also prayed and repeated slogans in favor of social peace and Christian unity. The gathering itself – according to Iraqi sources such as the ankawa.com news site – was disrupted by the arrival of an organized group of people who came to shout offensive slogans against Patriarch Sako. After about half an hour, the “solidarity demonstration” was disbanded and the participants left the square.
The episode in Tahrir Square comes after clashes and controversy around the increasingly controversial issue of “quotas” of parliamentary seats reserved for minority components of the Iraqi population (see Fides, 28 and 30/5/2023 ) rekindled in recent weeks.
According to the electoral law in force, five seats in Parliament are reserved for candidates belonging to indigenous Christian communities, so that the needs of the Christian component can be expressed in the exercise of legislative power. But the vote to elect candidates for seats reserved for the Christian component is not exercised exclusively by Christian voters. Non-Christians can also vote to allocate the five seats that should theoretically be reserved for the Christian component. In this way, the majority political forces also manage to guide the allocation of seats reserved for minority components, including Christians.
After the legislative elections of October 10, 2021, as already reported by Agenzia Fides, the former Christian parliamentarian Joseph Sliwa went so far as to declare that the five new deputies who won the seats of the Christian quota did not represent the Baptized Iraqis, since according to him, 90% of the votes cast in their favor did not actually come from non-Christian voters.
The accusations and controversies, which already emerged during the Iraqi legislative elections of 2018, implicate major political formations, of Shiite and Kurdish
origin, which according to critics, in the last electoral rounds, diverted a part of their votes to candidates running for the seats reserved for Christians, in order to place in those seats parliamentarians totally aligned with their own political strategies. In particular, at the center of tensions is the “Babylon Movement”, which currently occupies four of the five seats reserved for Christian candidates by the national electoral system. This movement was born as a political projection of the so-called “Babylon Brigades”, an armed militia formed in the context of the military operations against the jihadists of the Islamic State (Daesh) which led to the reconquest of the northern Iraqi areas that fell into jihadist hands in 2014. Led by Ryan al Kildani (Ryan “the Chaldean”), the “Babylon Brigades” had always claimed their label as a militia made up of Christians, even if their connection with pro-Iranian Shiite militias such as the Popular Protection Units (Hashd al Shaabi) has been documented. The political acronym “Babylon Movement” is also considered to be close to the “Badr Organization”, a political movement which, during the elections, had merged with the Fatah Alliance, a cartel of nine acronyms and Shiite organizations of a pro-Iranian orientation.
At the end of March, the Bishops of the Churches present in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain, with a striking initiative, announced the possible boycott of the forthcoming elections by the Christian component of the Iraqi population, if the demands formulated within this component and aimed at protecting the spaces of political representation guaranteed to Christian candidates in Parliament and in national and local political institutions by the same electoral laws currently in force are not taken into consideration.
The Chaldean Patriarch Sako also intervened in the matter. On Monday, May 8, in an interview with a television station in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Iraqi Cardinal had also mentioned the possibility of having recourse to international justice bodies to protect the correct and unlawful distribution of the share of parliamentary seats reserved for Iraqi Christians.
In recent weeks, denigration and attacks aimed at the Patriarch by subjects linked to the “Babylon Movement” have taken on increasingly harsh tones.
Officials from the Office of Endowments for Minority Religious Communities (Christians, Yazidis, Sabean-Mandeans, Shabak) also intervened in a press release to express their solidarity with thee Iraqi Cardinal.
“We are carefully monitoring” the statement reads “the comments recently published on social media, which attempt to undermine the leadership of the Chaldean Catholic Church, represented by Cardinal Mar Louis Raphael Sako”. Endowment Office officials strongly reject these accusations, acknowledging Patriarch Sako’s contribution to the process of liberating Iraqi society “from the trenches of sectarian conflict”.
By Agenzia Fides