By John Pontifex
A LEADING bishop in Iraq has appealed for government action to stem the growing tide of kidnappings, saying that Christians feel especially at risk.
Hitting out at alleged media and government reluctance to confront the problem, Archbishop Jean Sleiman said there were â€œcountlessâ€ reports of people being abducted.
The bishop, based in the Iraqi capital, described families and friends of kidnapped people coming to plead for his help to secure their release.
Speaking from Baghdad in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Sleiman said: â€œWe have more problems, especially kidnapping.
â€œThe media ignores this matter,â€ he said, adding: â€œIt is important to ask the government to pay attention to these issues and not only the general political situation.â€
Archbishop Sleiman, who ministers to Iraqâ€™s small Latin-rite Catholic community, added that money was the main motive for the kidnappings but that religious extremism was often an important factor especially concerning the abduction of Christians.
In the interview the archbishop described how only recently (Tuesday 19/08/08) he met a Christian man whose brother-in-law and son had been kidnapped and found dead a month later.
The meeting came barely 24 hours after he received a visit from a lady who begged for money for her 19-year-old daughter kidnapped with a ransom request of US$20,000.
The archbishop, a Carmelite from Lebanon, continued: â€œIt is not only Christians who are targeted but other groups. And yet the Christians feel the injustice of the situation very keenly because they have never played any part in the conflict within the country.â€
Nor is the problem confined to Baghdad. In July there were reports that Christians in northern Iraq had formed militia in a bid to improve security.
Archbishop Sleiman is not alone in calling for action over the problem of kidnappings.
In May, Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, made a video appealing for the release of five British men â€“ four security guards and one computer expert â€“ who were seized in Baghdad a year earlier.
The month before, British journalist Richard Butler was freed after two months in captivity in the south-east Iraqi city of Basra.