The recent withdrawal of Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, from the church’s main headquarters in Baghdad highlights a concerning reality: The existence of Christians in the Middle East is under threat, not only from ISIS and Al-Qaeda but also from the rising influence of Iran-backed militias.
The decision by the Iraqi president to revoke the Republican decree of Cardinal Sako appears to be driven by the increasing sway of Iran-backed militias within Iraq.
Cardinal Sako, known for his critical stance on Iran’s role, has become unfavorable to these militias, prompting removal from his position.
This development should be a matter of concern for the United States, as it reveals not only the ongoing threat posed by militias to the Christian community but also the deepening dominance of Iran within various Iraqi institutions.
Local Iraqi sources suggest that Iran-backed groups are seeking to replace Cardinal Sako, the representative for Iraqi Christians, with Rayan al-Kildani, a leader of the Babylon Brigades—a nominally Chaldean Catholic militia with close ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd al-Shaabi).
Though Iraq may not be making as many headlines as it did during the height of ISIS or the U.S. invasion in 2013, the situation in the country remains troubling.
A parallel can be drawn to the years between 2011 and 2013, when Iraq seemed stable after the U.S. withdrawal, only for sectarianism and economic deterioration to pave the way for the rise of ISIS, a terrorist organization that inflicted havoc for years.
Presently, Iraq is witnessing a similar trajectory, with its current government closely aligned with Iran and Iranian-backed militias exerting control over the economy, security institutions and anti-corruption bodies.
This control has severe implications for the Christian community, as the departure of Cardinal Sako from his church’s headquarters leaves them feeling vulnerable and unsafe, akin to children witnessing their father in danger.
Despite condemnations from Western governments and the state department regarding the cancellation of Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako’s official decree, the Iraqi government remains firm in its position.
Cardinal Sako, who courageously spoke out against his oppressors, is now subjected to systematic threats from Iran militants, who openly contemplate punishing him extrajudicially, signaling the possibility of assassination.
This incident is not isolated; it reflects the broader harm caused by pro-Iran political groups in Iraq against Iraqi Christians, whose numbers have been dwindling since 2003.
A significant part of the current crisis stems from the activities of Iran-backed militias, which, starting in 2013, illegally seized properties belonging to Christians who had fled their homes.
It is high time for a comprehensive understanding of the plight of Christians in the Middle East and the imminent threats they face in their historic homelands. Although ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s power has waned, the rise of radical Iran-backed groups poses a new and potentially devastating challenge to the future of Christians in the region. These groups not only control territories but also wield significant influence over political, economic, and security institutions in countries like Iraq and Lebanon – important homes for Middle Eastern Christians.
The withdrawal of Cardinal Sako and the growing influence of Iran-backed militias in Iraq underscores the urgent need for global attention and concerted action to protect the Christian community in the Middle East.
Ignoring this situation could have dire consequences, not only for the Christians but also for regional stability and religious diversity in the region.