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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Cardinal fears Iraq could be caught in middle of a US-Iran conflict

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Louis Sako is concerned by rising tensions between the United States and Iran, fearful that his country, Iraq, could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict. It has also made a proposed visit by Pope Francis to Iraq next year uncertain, he said.

In an exclusive interview with Catholic News Service, Cardinal Sako also said Iraq’s Christians are struggling after destruction of their ancestral lands by Daesh militants and the current growing encroachment by Shi’ite militias on their towns, following years of sectarian violence convulsing Iraq.

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

The cardinal spoke to Catholic News Service in Dohuk on 8th July, and again in Rome on 15th July. In Rome, he was among several speakers invited by Sally Axworthy, the British ambassador to the Holy See, to the presentation of 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. In Iraq, the report stated that while Daesh has been defeated, Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have taken over Christian properties seized by Daesh and have impeded the free movement of Christians, especially priests who are “unable to reach their churches to lead worship.”

Picture: Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, speaks during the presentation of the UK Independent Review on Persecution of Christians, in Rome on 15th July 2019. Looking on is Mgr Antoine Camilleri, an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).