The leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq has just delivered a scathing report on the French president's visit to his country, carried out just as the West was leaving Afghanistan.
Msgr. Louis-Raphaël Sako, Cardinal Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, does not mince words when speaking about the visit made by the French Head of State to Iraqi soil on August 28 and 29, 2021.
Before visiting the Christian communities of Baghdad and the Nineveh Plain, as well as the Shiites of Mosul, Emmanuel Macron spoke with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.
Then he took part in the “conference of neighbors of Iraq,” organized by Baghdad in partnership with Paris, in order to open a forum for dialogue and cooperation between the countries of the region, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, two longtime rivals reunited for the occasion.
In each of his interventions, the French head of state worked to reassure Iraqi leaders, as uncertainty grows regarding the United States’s engagement in this vast region.
“The international summit which was held in Baghdad with the participation of the French President was an important event. … But then, other moments of Emmanuel Macron's visit to Iraq, and especially his trip to Mosul, were marked by gestures and words that to many Iraqis appear unsuitable, and risk fueling misunderstandings,” stated the leader of the Chaldean Church, breaking with the official concert of praise that accompanied this event.
Cardinal Sako first reproaches the visit as a form of “the now obsolete cliché of visits by Western leaders who go to crisis areas to be misleading, presenting themselves as potential ‘resolvers’ of conflicts and long-term degraded situations.”
“We have seen many Westerner political and military 'missions' in the Middle East, we have seen so many promises of help, and in the end it all remains at the level of empty words, if not worse. Let’s think about what happened in Afghanistan. Let us think of the many promises made recently to Lebanon, which continues to struggle in a very serious crisis. The reality is that Western countries cannot do anything,” considers the high prelate.
And to continue: “the error of expecting salvation and the solution of the problems from the West - that of the West that defends Christians in other areas of the world – has had devastating effects,” estimates Msgr. Sako, for whom the Christian communities have been the first to be left holding the bag. Let us remember the full-scale desertion of Lebanon under François Mitterrand's first seven-year term!
The French president’s visit to Mosul was not likely to reassure the Chaldean Patriarch either. In this martyred city, the head of state made a point of visiting the Latin Church of Notre-Dame-de-l'Heure, served by Dominican Fathers.
Patriarch Sako notes, “In that circumstance Macron's interlocutors were mainly Europeans, and even the Iraqi bishops present seemed to be guests. There was an atmosphere of cordial familiarity among European compatriots.”
According to Cardinal Sako “some Sunni imams criticized Macron's visit while it was still ongoing.” A visit which risked adding fuel to the fire when, above all, it is a question of healing the wounds which remain alive in the region: “our first desire is to see the Christians who fled those lands return and stay in their homes,” he adds.
For this, “It is necessary to promote the restoration of a fabric of harmonious coexistence between the different ethnic and faith communities, the same that characterized Mosul in past times. In this regard, Macron’s visit did not help, it was a missed opportunity.”
And the Chaldean Patriarch gravely concludes: “The last thing for the Christians here to do is to put their trust in Western politics.”
A scathing but lucid observation which also leads to other reflections: the current French president, probably seeking re-election, needs to bring together a Catholic electorate that the recent revision of the bioethics law would have tended to disperse.
Presenting himself a protector of Christians in Iraq does not cost much when it comes to winning votes in France. But this kind of attitude has serious consequences for a Christian minority persecuted by Islam in this country.