Chaldean Church head: Don't arm Iraqi Christians against IS

Chaldean Church head: Don't arm Iraqi Christians against IS
5 min read
29 May, 2016
The head of the Chaldean church stressed the need for a diverse and unified Iraq and rejected a US proposal to specifically arm Christians in the fight against IS.
Sako emphasises the need for a unified Iraq [The New Arab]
As the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq presses on, the head of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako told The New Arab of his concern for the future of Christians in the country torn apart by militias, IS and government corruption.  

Yet despite a US proposed project to arm Christians in Iraq, the Patriarch refused the idea that Christians should be singled out - militarily or otherwise - from a diverse Iraqi community.  

"We refused and continue to reject this idea," he said.  "Our loyalty is always to the nation and the state."

Although leaders from the Assyrian Christian community hit back at the Patriarch for his refusal to endorse the US defence spending bill, which referred specifically to Iraqi Christians as a group that should be armed, Sako is sticking to his guns.  

"Would the US accept similar militias being made within its territory?" he asked, speculating that the proposal could be motivated by the presence of around 300,000 Americans of Iraqi Christian ancestry.  

Reflecting comments Sako made earlier this week, the Patriarch stressed that young Christians should instead support and help to rehabilitate the regular Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces to liberate lands from IS.
The Patriarch stressed that young Christians should instead support and help to rehabilitate the regular Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces to liberate lands from IS
Iraq was home to millions of Christians prior to the 2003 invasion led by the US, but the community has since dwindled down to a few hundred thousands.  

"There is a hemorrhage of Christians from Iraq...every Christian in Iraq has friends or relatives abroad" said the Patriarch.  "Every Christian in Iraq has suffered a lot, pushing them to emigrate," he added.  

Thousands of Christians were displaced from Mosul following the takeover of the city by the Islamic State, and have also been a target of militias as they battle militants.    
"Two years ago Christians abandoned their home...now some of them are in camps and others are in houses leased to them by the church. We ask, when we will they return to their homes...?" Sako said.

The Patriarch stresses that although theft within Islam is forbidden, in Baghdad, Basra and some Northern towns theft of Christian property became common, along with the "mad and ignorant" idea that taking property from non-Muslims is permissible.

"Militias, mafias and individuals seized Christian homes and property publicly under threat and intimidation while the government watched," he said, describing the trend as "terrifying" for Christians.

"Daesh is a cancer...a sin against God and religion, and a crime against human rights and civilization," the Patriarch concluded.
Iraq was home to millions of Christians prior to the 2003 invasion led by the US, but the community has since dwindled down to a few hundred thousands
Yet he traced back many of the problems faced by Christians in Iraq to the US.  

"The American role in the region has been negative, not only in Iraq," he said.

"Washington came with slogans of democracy, freedom and economic prosperity.  Americans dismantled the Iraqi state, demobilised the army, and destroyed the country’s infrastructure," he added.

"They created...sectarianism and chaos in Iraq, and are responsible for what is happening how...Daesh and al-Qaeda are natural products of what they did in Iraq."
Although the Patriarch rejects the division of Iraq into "unrealistic and unatural" autonomous regions, he accepts the idea of some self-determination for various peoples
Federalism but not partition

Although the Patriarch rejects the division of Iraq into "unrealistic and unatural" autonomous regions, he accepts the idea of some self-determination for various peoples.

"We as Iraqis don’t live in closed-in or isolated from each other...we have lived together over many centuries and this must continue," he said, although he stressed he is open to the idea of some autonomy for Kurds.

"It is the right of all people to think of self-determination," he said.  

"The Kurds have suffered so much, and I wish they could rely on rational dialogue with the Iraqi government to find a solution that suits them, away from fighting."

The Patriarch also supports calls for "safe zones" to be created in Nineveh province to allow minorities to return to their homes following their displacement by IS.

"I suggest that Iraq adopts a de-facto federal system in a civilised manner - on a purely regulatory basis, away from partisanship and sectarian and religious blocs...so Iraq can maintain unity" he said.  

"There maybe some Christian self-administration in the Nineveh plain," he said, stressing the community’s "lack of desire to live in Ghettos."
The Patriarch concluded that after the complex problems the country has faced and the terrors unleashed by IS, the country’s future remains uncertain
Although Raphael said the role of authorities is "important and essential" to lead to peace and coexistence Iraq, the political classes  in the country “failed” to build a new country.  

"We need a change and a new generation...to believe in the homeland and citizenship," he said.

"We need to change the course and our culture...there is no country where there exists only one religion...there is religious diversity," he said, calling on churches and mosques to withdraw from the political process which he feels should remain detatched from religious concerns. 

The Patriarch concluded that after the complex problems the country has faced and the terrors unleashed by IS, the country’s future remains uncertain.

"Iraq will need a strong government to deal with the developments realistically, with a clear vision, and decisive plan," the Patriarch said.