The Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Sako, has telephoned Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr to congratulate him on his unexpected victory in the country’s recent parliamentary elections. The Patriarchate also said that Sako told Sadr he hoped for a government that promotes the common good of all the Iraqi people. According to the Patriarchate, Sadr thanked Sako for his words and pledged to “support Christians”, the Vatican-linked news agency Fides reported.
No single candidate won anywhere near enough seats to control the majority of the 329-seat parliament, and Sadr’s alliance with the communists won the greatest number, with only 54 seats. The bloc led by Hadi al-Amari, a militia leader who fought against Iraq during its war with Iran, came second with 47 seats. The bloc headed by Haider al-Abadi, Prime Minister since 2014, fared worse than expected, with 42 seats, but won the multi-sectarian province of Nineveh, which includes many Christian towns and the city of Mosul where, under his overall command, Iraqi forces led the military defeat of IS last year.
However Mr. Sadr did not stand as a candidate himself and has said he will not become prime minister, meaning he instead can function as something of a “kingmaker”. Although Christians were killed or forced to flee Baghdad in 2006 and 2007 as his Shia militias sparked furious fighting with Baghdad’s Sunni populations, he has distanced himself from his Iranian former backers, saying he regards their influence in Iraq as destabilising.
Rend al-Rahim, a former Iraqi ambassador to the US, told Al Jazeera that this result “indicates that at least in Mosul province there is renewed hope for a better future and an acknowledgement of the role of Abadi and the Iraqi army in liberating Nineveh.”
According to the New York Times, Sadr favours Abadi to continue as prime minister. Abadi is a moderate Shia who has partnered with the US in the fight against Islamic State. Sadr met both him and Mr Amari at the weekend as part of negotiations for forming a government, and after meeting Abadi he said their meeting showed that the next government “will be inclusive, we will not exclude anyone”.
The Al Monitor news website noted that on 21 May, Sadr tweeted, “I am Muqtada. I am Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Sabean, Yazidi, Islamist, civil, Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian, Turkmen, Chaldean and Shabak. I am Iraqi. Do not expect me to side with any sect against the other to renew enmities and lead to our demise. We are headed toward a comprehensive Iraqi alliance.”
Although the country’s Christians had only five seats to fight over, the results show a significant shift. Fides reports that four of the five successful candidates belong to the Chaldean Church, and that the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the longest-running Christian party, will have no representation in parliament.
Two of the five seats were won by candidates from the Babylon Brigades militia: Aswan Salem Sawa in Nineveh, and Burhanuddin Ishak Ibrahim in Baghdad. In Kirkuk, the seat was won by the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Council’s Rihan Hanna Ayoub, and in Erbil the seat was won by Hoshyar Karadag Yelda, a candidate for the Chaldean coalition.
The only non-Chaldean, Immanuel Khoshaba, of the Assyrian Rafidain coalition, won the seat reserved for Christians in the governorate of Dohuk.
It is thought that since the emigration of around 70 per cent of Iraqi Christians since the US-led invasion of 2003, Chaldean Catholics are now more numerous than Syriacs and Assyrians.
Patriarch Sako, who has been positioning himself as the leader of all the country’s Christians, urged the Christian politicians “to develop a new vision and unite the stances to safeguard our small quota and its independence, which in turn protects our dignity and unity”.
Meanwhile it was announced on Sunday that the patriarch is to be made a cardinal, increasing his recognition in the Western Church. His predecessor, Emmanuel Delly, received the cardinal’s red hat in 2007 at the age of 80, as a sign of Pope Benedict XVI’s “spiritual closeness and affection” for Iraqi Christians then engulfed amid the Sunni-Shia violence that had erupted in Iraq. Sako is to be made a cardinal on 29 June alongside 13 other prelates including Pakistan’s Joseph Coutts, the Archbishop of Karachi and an expert in interfaith dialogue. Asked by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle if his elevation to cardinal would improve the lot of Christians, who face considerable persecution there, Coutts replied: “Pakistan’s Christians are struggling to be recognised as equal citizens … My selection as cardinal does acknowledge that there is a viable, visible and active Christian community in Pakistan.” But he added that he had no plans as yet to lobby the Pakistani authorities to pardon Asia Bibi, the imprisoned Christian mother of five on death row for blasphemy.