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WikiLeaks: 2009-07-02: 09BAGHDAD1785: Christians Seek Political Unity in Advance of National Elections

by WikiLeaks. 09BAGHDAD1785: July 02, 2009.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 08:34 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD1785 2009-07-02 12:54 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad

DE RUEHGB #1785/01 1831254
P 021254Z JUL 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L BAGHDAD 001785 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/01/2019 
     B. BAGHDAD 1486 
     C. BAGHDAD 1288 
     D. BAGHDAD 1426 
Classified By: Deputy Political Counselor Steve Walker for Reason 1.4 ( 
1. (C) Several key Christian politicians and religious 
leaders have begun to lay the groundwork for the unification 
of Iraq's Christian political parties into a single electoral 
coalition in anticipation of the January 2010 national 
elections.  Although Iraq's Christian community suffers from 
numerous divisions (e.g.; how the different communities 
should be described, as seen in the recent amendments to the 
Kurdistan Constitution), Christian leaders argue that a 
unified list could win as many as eight seats in the national 
Parliament, even in the absence of electoral quotas.  They 
believe that the key to the formation of a united electoral 
coalition will be the Council of Bishops, which could use the 
promise of its endorsement as an incentive to encourage 
unification.  Already, the three largest Chaldean political 
parties have united to compete as a unified coalition in the 
KRG parliamentary elections.  However, negotiations between 
the Chaldean and the Assyrian political parties to form a 
unified list for the national elections will be fraught with 
difficulty due to ongoing disputes and could break down as 
they did in 2005.  The results of the KRG elections may 
determine who has the upper hand in the negotiations.  End 
Divided We Fall 
2. (C) On June 18, Poloff met with Georges Bakoos, the Prime 
Minister's advisor for Christian Affairs, who predicted that 
Iraq's Christian community could win five to eight seats in 
the next Parliament given their population size (estimated at 
300,000 to 500,000) if Christian political parties formed one 
unified coalition.  Since 2005, Iraq's Christian community 
has had only two Parliamentary representatives: Ablahad Sawa 
of the Chaldean National Party and Younadan Kanna, who heads 
the Assyrian Democratic Movement.  Bakoos attributed the 
Christians' poor showing in the 2005 Parliamentary elections 
to the fact that Christian political parties ran on five 
separate party lists.  He argued that the lack of unity not 
only divided the community's votes, but also demoralized 
Christian voters, leading many to either stay home or vote 
for secular national parties (Bakoos said that he himself had 
chosen the latter). 
3. (C) Part of the explanation of the political divisions 
within Iraq's Christian community lies in its denominational 
fault lines and the intercommunity debate as to whether 
Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians are in fact distinct 
groups.  On the one hand, the Chaldeans, who are Catholics 
and make up perhaps as many as 70% of Iraq's Christians, view 
themselves as a group that is distinct from the 
self-described Assyrian community.  The same is true of the 
Syriacs, who are a mixture of both Catholics and Eastern 
Orthodox subscribers and compose perhaps 10% of Iraq's 
Christians.  On the other hand, there are the Assyrians who 
are part of the Church of the East, which is independent 
Catholic (i.e., it accepts the authority of Pope Benedict in 
Rome, but maintains its own Patriarch).  The Assyrians make 
up perhaps 18% of Iraq's Christians (the remaining 2% of 
Christians being Armenians and Protestants) and view 
themselves along with the Chaldeans and Syriacs as part of 
one Chaldo-Assryian-Syriac group.  (Note: Estimates of the 
denominational breakdown of Iraq's Christian population vary 
greatly, especially in relation to the size of the Assyrian 
Qgreatly, especially in relation to the size of the Assyrian 
community, although there is general acceptance that the 
Chaldean population constitutes the vast majority. End note.). 
Christians Debate the KRG Constitution 
4. (C) Over the past few weeks the debate over how to 
officially define Iraq's Christian community has raged, 
albeit out of the public eye, in the drafting of the new 
Constitution for the Kurdistan region, which was approved by 
the Kurdistan Parliament on June 24, but will not go in 
effect until it is ratified by a region-wide referendum (ref 
A).  On June 28, MP Kanna told Poloff that the Chaldeans and 
Syriacs were pushing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) 
to list Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs as distinct groups 
in articles 5 and 35 of the Constitution.  Kanna stated that 
he and others had successfully lobbied KRG President Massoud 
Barzani to modify the Constitution's language to list the 
three groups as one.  On June 29, Archbishop Matti Matouka, 
the head of the Iraqi Syriac Church, told Poloff that he had 
received lots of emails complaining about the 
"Chaldo-Assyrian-Syriac" language of the KRG Constitution, 
confirmation that the insertion of the language labeling the 
Christian community as one group was contentious. 
There Can Be Only One 
5. (C) On a practical level, these differences in 
self-identification have translated into near constant 
squabbles between Iraq's Christian political parties since 
2003 as each has sought to claim the mantle of the 
community's leadership.  This has been particularly true of 
the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), headed by MP Kanna, 
which is recognized by many as the Iraqi Christian 
community's most organized political entity (and one that is 
supported by a vocal American diaspora).  The party's 
superior organization translated into immediate benefits 
during the CPA era, when MP Kanna was the sole Christian 
representative on the Iraqi Governing Council.  Since that 
time, the ADM's attempts to portray itself as speaking for 
the entire Christian community have irritated many within the 
larger Chaldean and Syriac bodies politic, which view 
themselves as not only numerically superior, but also 
distinct from the Assyrians. 
6. (C) One Iraqi Christian leader, former Minister of 
Displacement and Migration Pascale Warda, herself a current 
ADM member, described Kanna as singularly obsessed with being 
the sole voice of Iraq's Christian community and the ADM as 
being a one-man show, with him at the helm.  PM Advisor 
Bakoos described how in the run up to the Iraqi 
Constitutional Convention in 2005, the Christian community 
was asked to put forward a list of five persons to represent 
them.  According to Bakoos, Kanna insisted on providing his 
own list to the Convention which was heavy on representatives 
from the ADM to the exclusion of other Christian political 
parties.  On June 23, Chaldean MP Sawa told Poloff that in 
October 2005 he had initiated discussions between the various 
Christian political parties on the formation of a unified 
electoral list, but that negotiations had broken down when 
the ADM insisted on having the first three slots on the list. 
7. (C) For his part, Kanna described himself to Poloff as a 
uniter and pointed to his efforts to ensure that Assyrians, 
Chaldeans, and Syrians are listed as one community in the KRG 
Constitution.  He also stated that despite its name, the ADM 
has numerous Chaldeans and Syriacs in its leadership 
structure and described the party as being far more popular 
than its Chaldean rivals and even the Christian community's 
religious figures.  When asked if he would be willing to form 
an electoral coalition with other Christian parties, Kanna 
responded that MP Sawa (head of the Chaldean coalition) was 
welcome to combine forces with the ADM and that he would be 
looking to arrange a meeting soon to see what might be 
Enter the Bishops 
8. (C) Given the political rivalries, Christian leaders note 
that attempts to unify Christian political parties in a 
single electoral coalition for the 2010 national elections 
will remain contentious despite the lack of representation 
that resulted from their divisions during the 2005 
parliamentary elections.  This time, however, the Christian 
Qparliamentary elections.  This time, however, the Christian 
community's religious leaders may attempt to play a more 
active role in facilitating the unification of a Christian 
electoral list.  Bakoos relayed to Poloff that he had been in 
contact with Cardinal Emmanuel Delly, Patriarch of the 
Chaldean Church (Iraq's largest Christian community), who 
agreed that a unified electoral coalition was important. 
According to Bakoos, the two have discussed the possibility 
that Iraq's Council of Bishops, which includes 
representatives from the 14 officially sanctioned Christian 
churches in Iraq, would offer its endorsement as an incentive 
for Iraq's Christian political parties to form one electoral 
list.  In a separate meeting, Archbishop Matouka, Patriarch 
of the Syriac Church and Vice-Chairman of the Council of 
Bishops, confirmed to Poloff that the Council is working hard 
to push for unification and telling the various political 
parties that they must come together in order to receive the 
Council's "blessing." 
9. (C) In explaining the benefits of the Council's 
involvement, Bakoos argued that not only might the 
possibility of a Council endorsement lead to successful 
negotiations to form a united Christian coalition, but that 
it would also have the effect of driving up the Christian 
community's turnout on election day in the same way that the 
endorsement for the United Shia Alliance by Grand Ayatollah 
Ali Sistani helped increase Shia turnout in the 2006 
elections.  However, not all of the actors are covetous of 
the Council's endorsement.  When asked about the idea, Kanna 
was dismissive of the influence of the religious leaders 
saying that the people viewed them as corrupt and out of 
KRG Elections: The First Test 
10. (C) Even in the absence of a major religious endorsement, 
a number of Christian religious parties have already begun to 
come together.  MP Sawa described to Poloff how the three 
largest Chaldean political parties, including his own 
Chaldean Democratic Union Party along with the Chaldean 
National Council and the Chaldean Democratic Podium had come 
together to form a new coalition called the Chaldeans 
Consolidated List.  Sawa indicated that the first test of the 
Chaldean Consolidated List would be the KRG parliamentary 
elections planned for July 25 (ref B).  In that election, 
five seats have been set aside for the Christians (ref C). 
Sawa was confident that the united Chaldean list would be 
able to win at least three of the five reserved seats, which 
would reflect the Chaldean's demographic weight in the KRG. 
(Note: Based on previous conversations with minority 
religious leaders, the Chaldean population in Kurdistan may 
be as high as 150,000, compared to 15,000 Assyrians (ref D). 
End note.) 
11. (C) For its part, the ADM also believes that it will win 
two-to-three seats in the KRG elections, but according to 
Kanna it views its primary competition coming not from the 
Chaldean Consolidated List, but from the "Ishtar" list, which 
is also known as the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian People's 
Council.  According to Kanna, the Ishtar list is not an 
independent party, but a Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) 
creation that promises to represent the Christian community 
but will ultimately align with the KDP.  Indeed, the Ishtar 
list is supported by the current enigmatic KDP Finance 
Minister Sarkis Aghajan who is a Christian, but who has not 
been seen in the KRG for the past eight months.  (Note: The 
Finance Ministry in the KRG is not a unified entity.  Both 
the KDP and PUK continue to run their own Finance Ministries. 
 End note.)  Kanna accused Ishtar of engaging in electoral 
fraud to win the seat reserved for Christians on the Baghdad 
Provincial Council in January 2009 and claimed that they were 
already engaging in voter intimidation in the Kurdistan 
region in order to influence the July 25 elections.  Kanna 
argued that Ishtar will probably win two-to-three seats if it 
is allowed to continue with its heavy-handed tactics.  In a 
separate conversation, MP Sawa also expressed concerns about 
the Ishtar list and said that Finance Minister Aghajan was 
using his office to direct money to Christian communities, in 
particular to displaced communities, in order to buy their 
votes.  (Note: The Embassy can not verify the veracity of 
Kanna and Sawa's harsh accusations against Ishtar.  End note.) 
12. (C) While attempts to politically unify Iraq's Christians 
have been unsuccessful to date, the community's lack of 
political clout appears to have brought a new sense of 
urgency to attempts to expand its political representation 
Qurgency to attempts to expand its political representation 
within the national Parliament.  While negotiations for a 
unified list remain fraught with difficulty, reports that 
Iraq's Christian leaders will step in to encourage 
unification is a welcome development.  It appears that the 
painful lessons of the 2005 national parliamentary elections, 
which resulted in the election of only two Christians to the 
Parliament, appear to be catalyzing the Chaldean parties at 
least to put aside their differences.  Whether the new 
Chaldean Consolidated List and the ADM can reach an agreement 
remains to be seen.  However, the KRG elections will provide 
the first test of the relative strength of each party.  If 
either party demonstrates its political clout in the KRG 
elections by winning the majority of the five seats allocated 
to Christians, this may put pressure on the other to seek a 
political alliance on its terms.  Conversely, if the Ishtar 
party wins a majority of the Christian vote, this too may 
force the Chaldean List and ADM to join together for 
political survival.  In the meantime, the Embassy will 
continue to encourage Christian political parties to 
establish common ground and articulate a shared political 
agenda as a means to more effectively address the concerns of 
Iraq's Christian community.  End comment. 


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