Iraqi Catholic Leader Blasts Assyrian Commander for Tribute to U.S. Troops

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako, head of Iraq’s largest Christian community, decried the commander of the Christian Assyrian Army, known as Dwekh Nawsha, for shedding tears for U.S. troops killed in Iraq, suggesting the Americans do not deserve to be commended for their sacrifice.

In an interview with Assyrian TV earlier this year, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Sako, declared:

There went one [man] from here crying at the graves of the troops of America – crying for those who died liberating the Nineveh Plain. Americans died liberating the Nineveh Plain? What saying is this? Where did they die in the Nineveh Plain?

The patriarch of the Chaldean church, which is one of the Eastern rite churches in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, was referring to Cmdr. Emmanuel Khoshaba Youkhana.

Sako added that the Christian Assyrian Army leader’s emotional display, which took place during an exclusive interview with Breitbart News earlier this year at the Arlington National Cemetery, was not “proper.”

Tears welled in the eyes of the Assyrian Army commander when he reached the section of the cemetery where U.S. troops who died in the name of Iraqi freedom have been laid to rest.

According to the Pentagon, 4,497 Americans, including 13 U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) civilians, were killed during the first Iraq War that started in 2003, which was known as Operation Iraqi Freedom until September 2010 when it was renamed Operation New Dawn.

Another 32,247 were wounded. A tally by CNN shows that many of the casualties (estimated in the hundreds) took place in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, particularly Mosul, once the home of the largest Christian community in the country.

Moreover, three Americans have died in combat in Iraq while supporting the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), including one who died in Nineveh province. Overall, there have been 23 U.S. military fatalities, including 3 civilians, and 16 injuries under the mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The Assyria Nineveh Plain, a region in Iraq’s Nineveh province outside Mosul, is the historical homeland of the Assyrian Christians.

At the Arlington National Cemetery located in Virginia right outside Washington, D.C., the Assyrian Christian commander told Breitbart News, as tears ran his face:

I want to show appreciation on behalf of the Christian communities in Iraq’s Assyrian Nineveh Plain for the sacrifice that the United States made to liberate our country and for the souls of those soldiers who lost their lives to give Iraqis a good life and democracy…

Really, I am filled with emotion when I see the brave heroes buried in this cemetery. I appreciate all who sacrificed [their life] to make a good life and future for other people. It’s an honor to be in the section where those who died and sacrificed for Iraqi freedom are laid to rest.

Cmdr. Youkhana told Breitbart News he was “dismayed” by Patriarch Sako’s comments, adding that he remains “very thankful” to the U.S. troops who were killed in an effort to improve Iraq.

“For me, the visit was very necessary. It was an opportunity to pay respect to the souls of the people who have sacrificed their lives for Iraq,” he added.

The commander said that his tribute was “reduced to a political pawn” by Sako.

He accused the Catholic leader of ridiculing him for crying at the cemetery, adding that he did so for “political reasons.”

Youkhana also blamed Sako for inaccurately translating his comments in honor of the U.S. troops into Arabic and turning them into a “personal attack” against him, seemingly fueling the rifts that already exist between Muslims and Christians in Iraq.

The translation falsely suggested that the he “went and cried at the Arlington Cemetery to collect some money from the U.S.,” said Youkhana.

Patriarch Sako did not immediately respond to Breitbart News’s requests for comment.

It appears that Patriarch Sako plays the role of both political and religious leader.

Some Assyrian leaders have condemned the Chaldean patriarch for urging the United States not to arm Christian forces fighting ISIS in the Middle East.

In a statement, the Assyrian Confederation of Europe (ACE) said in May:

We urge Louis Sako not to confuse his role as a religious figure with that of a political leader, just as political and secular leaders refrain from passing comment on theology or ecclesiastical affairs.

While Sako would like to see the Christian groups join the Iraqi army and forces loyal to northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Youkhana wants his forces to remain independent.

Youkhana’s Christian army has managed to hold territory in the Nineveh Plain despite repeated attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). His army has implored President Barack Obama to provide weapons and military equipment to no avail.


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