Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Catholic Patriarch Chaldean of Babylon, on November 2, 2019, has given his support to the protesters who have been protesting for a month in the streets of Baghdad, calling for the “fall of the corrupt regime,” reported the Swiss news agency cath.ch on November 4th. He was at the head of a delegation composed of three bishops and six priests.
Speaking to the media, Cardinal Sako said: “We have come to express our admiration for these young people who have broken sectarian barriers and re-appropriated the identity of the Iraqi nation,” he said, proving that the homeland is precious and invaluable. What politicians could not do. Denouncing the corruption of the elites cut off from the needs of the people, he demanded that “the money stolen for sixteen years should be recovered to carry out the economic, social, and health development projects of the country.”
Aid to the Church in Need (AED) quotes a statement from the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, who canceled a planned trip to Hungary on October 28 and visited wounded protestors in a Baghdad hospital, calling on the government to listen to the protesters. He said, “We appeal to the conscience of Iraqi officials to listen seriously to their people, who are complaining about the current miserable situation, the deterioration of services and the spread of corruption,” leading to such a crisis. This is the first time since 2003 that the Iraqi people are expressing their peacefulness away from politicization, breaking sectarian barriers and emphasizing their Iraqi national identity.”
Earlier, on October 30, representatives of the various Churches in Iraq spoke out in a joint message following the anti-government demonstrations organized since October 1st. They supported protesters’ requests for jobs, housing, services, welfare and health assistance and called for effective measures “against corruption and the pillaging of public resources.” Speaking directly to the authorities, they demanded that the Iraqi people be preserved from the prospect of a stalemate in chaos by adopting courageous reform measures. They demanded that those who have responsibility avoid the violent repressive methods of popular demonstrations, and that protesters express their protests in a peaceful manner, while avoiding being infiltrated by violent groups.
Italian news agency AsiaNews reported on November 7 that the United Nations Special Envoy for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said she was “horrified by the bloodshed in Iraq.” “Violence,” she insisted, “only generates violence; peaceful protesters must be protected. The time has come for a national dialogue.”
The protests have been concentrated in the nine Shiite provinces of Iraq, with limited participation of Sunni Muslims and minorities concentrated in the north of the country, says AED. Iraqi Christians are both sympathetic to what the protesters call a “revolution,” while fearing new violence that they will still face as minorities. The Syro-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Msgr. Yohanna Petros Mouche, told the AED: “It is good and fair that the oppressed and others deprived of their rights demonstrate, provided they are listened to and respected. This is not the case in Iraq. There is no government, no respect for the human person, and people can take advantage of these circumstances to take revenge on others. Moreover, in the plains of Nineveh, we have had enough. I hope in a certain way that prayer will play a role, along with an intervention that will make the situation calmer and bring different ideas together.”
Many of the problems reported by protesters in Baghdad are the same as those facing young Christians: unemployment, corruption, and a government that defends Iranian interests. In the Nineveh Plain, many Christians live under the control of Iran-backed militias accused of racketeering the local population, hindering the economy and intimidating minorities. These factors explain why some Christians in the Nineveh Plain, most of them young, expressed their solidarity with the protesters.
In this particularly difficult context, Cardinal Sako called on the faithful of the Chaldean Catholic Church to fast for three days, from November 11 to 13, and to pray for God’s peace and the return of stability in Iraq. The Chaldean Patriarch also invited the government to “win the trust” of his children by engaging “a courageous dialogue,” and “economic reforms” towards a “redistribution of wealth”; and he asked the intellectuals who fled to return “to contribute to the reforms.” The problem of Iraq and most Arab countries is “cultural and spiritual and not purely political.” The thief, the corrupt, the extremist, or the tyrant dominates “because a strong and solid religious, spiritual, and moral motivation is lacking,” he said in a message to AsiaNews and published on November 11.
At the same time, Fides reported that a statement by the White House spokesman pointed to early elections as a potential solution to chaos. The US statement de facto justifies the street protests, which are understandable reactions to the rise of Iran’s influence in Iraq. On November 11, AsiaNews reported on the estimated toll of the crackdown by the authorities: more than 300 dead and 16,000 wounded.