US and Iran tensions could catch Iraq in the middle

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch is concerned rising tensions between the United States and Iran could see Iraq caught in the middle of a potential conflict.

Cardinal Louis Sako says it has also made a proposed visit by Pope Francis to Iraq next year uncertain.

Sako also says Iraq’s Christians are struggling.

Their ancestral lands were destroyed by Daesh (ISIS militants) and the growing encroachment by Shi’ite militias on their towns at present is following years of sectarian violence.

“We are afraid when we hear people saying that there will be war and what could happen. But I hope that we will not have war and that the Iranians will consider what Iraq has experienced.

“After 15 years, Iraq is suffering and there is confusion,” he says.

“There is no citizenship, but sectarianism, in Iraq. Christians have suffered a lot.”

Sako was invited by Sally Axworthy, the British ambassador to the Holy See, to the presentation of the UK Independent Review on Persecution of Christians at Rome’s Basilica of St Bartholomew, a shrine to modern martyrs of the Catholic Church.

The review looked into the situation of Christians around the world, particularly in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The review report says although Daesh has been defeated in Iraq, Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have taken over the Christian properties Daesh had seized.

They have also impeded the free movement of Christians, especially priests who are “unable to reach their churches to lead worship.”

The Christian population in Iraq has dwindled to about 200,000. This is a huge drop from the 1.5 to two million in the country before the 2003 US-led invasion.

Sako says there were once-thriving Christian communities throughout Iraq: these were in the capital, Baghdad, in Basra to the south, as well as in Kirkuk, Mosul and Kurdistan in the north.

“Today in Mosul, there are virtually no Christians. There were more than 30,000 (before sectarian violence and Islamic State). I was a parish priest there,” he said.

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News category: World.