Baghdad -- The Chaldean Patriarchate strongly rejects the presence of any Iraqi armed movement by Christians.
In a strongly worded statement released yesterday, the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako expressed his opposition to the creation of such a Christian militia, and for the first time.
The issue emerged in the past few years in connection with the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, to free Mosul and the Nineveh Plain.
Instead of a Christian militia, the prelate writes: "we encourage our youth to join the Iraqi official army and the federal police services, while those in [the] Kurdistan region of Iraq [should] join [Kurdish] Peshmerga forces".
"We respect individual decisions to join Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi or to get involved in politics," the statement reads, "but not to form a Christian 'brigade', since forming a Christian armed militia contradicts the Christian spirituality that calls for love, tolerance, forgiveness and peace." Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi or People's Mobilisation Forces are a Shia-dominated militia.
The idea a Christian militia to "defend" people in northern Iraq, especially in the Nineveh Plain where Christians are concentrated, has proven highly contentious.
During the fight against IS and its self-style caliphate, a Christian-dominated militia, the Babylon Brigades, was created, closely linked to Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi.
This Christian militia eventually gave rise to the Babylon Movement (BM), a political party that did well in the May 2018 elections, winning two of the five seats reserved for Christians, which critics attribute to Shia support.
One of the BM's leader is Rayan al Kildani, a controversial figure also known as Rayan the Chaldean, who was recently targeted by US sanctions.
He is suspected of grabbing farmland and heading paramilitary groups who have, de facto, prevented displaced families from returning to their homes in the Nineveh Plain.
Referring to a decree issued by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on 1 July 2019, Patriarch Sako writes that it "agrees with the guidelines of many political entities, and with our mission as Iraqi Christians in consolidating whatever [that] leads to harmonious coexistence on the ground" and "solidif[ies] the pillars of a strong government of law, citizenship and equality."
In his statement, Patriarch Sako reiterates his support for the decree, which also limits "weapons to the state, strengthen[s] its institutions, and reinforce[s] national awareness among Iraqis, in terms of their national identity."