Iraqi Archbishop’s Death Targets Christians

By Peter Lamprecht
ISTANBUL, March 13 (Compass Direct News) – An Iraqi archbishop kidnapped and held for ransom for 14 days has been found dead in northern Iraq in what appears to be an attempt to force Christians out of the city, church leaders said.

Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Paulus Faraj Rahho’s body was recovered at approximately 2 p.m. in Mosul, Kirkuk’s Chaldean leader Louis Sako said.

“They found him just a half hour ago, and now they have taken him to the hospital for the analysis,” Sako told Compass. “We don’t know when he was killed.”

Mosul Christians discovered the archbishop’s corpse buried in a cemetery, a priest in the city told Compass.

Italian Catholic news service SIR broke the news of the Rahho’s death this afternoon.

“The kidnappers had told us already yesterday that Monsignor Rahho was very ill, and yesterday afternoon they told us that he died,” SIR quoted Baghdad auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni as saying.

Warduni said that the kidnappers had indicated where to find the body but clarified that it was still unclear how Rahho had died.

A medical examiner at Mosul’s morgue told The Associated Press that the archbishop’s body showed no signs of being shot.

Prior to his abduction, Rahho was taking medication for heart problems and could only stand for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, said a cleric who saw the archbishop just days before his capture. Rahho did not have his medicine with him when he was kidnapped.

Rahho is the highest ranking Christian clergyman to be killed in Iraq.

Christians Targeted

The archbishop was kidnapped on February 29 at approximately 5:30 p.m. while leaving the Holy Spirit parish in Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad.

He had just finished presiding over the Stations of the Cross with his congregation and was returning home when armed militants in four vehicles blocked his path. They gunned down his two bodyguards and driver and took him by force.

Rahho’s kidnappers had demanded four “impossible” conditions for the archbishop’s release, implying that the kidnapping was about targeting Christians, a church source close to the negotiations said.

“They asked that all Christians in Mosul help the terrorists to fight the Americans,” the source said. “The terrorists said, ‘Everybody is fighting Americans, but the Christians are doing nothing against them, so you must help us with money.”

He said that along with money, the kidnappers demanded that Iraqi Christians appeal to the Vatican and western Christians to supply arms to the Iraqi militias.

The kidnappers’ third demand was that Iraqi Christians appeal to the Kurdish government of Iraq’s northern region to release all Sunni Arab prisoners in their custody, the source said.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during the negotiations, Chaldean leaders had expressed surprise at the way in which Rahho’s captors had increased their ransom demands while holding the archbishop.

Kidnappers who have held more than a dozen other Iraqi clergymen for ransom over the past 20 months have always decreased the ransom amount during negotiations for the Christians’ release.

But Rahho’s captors had increased their initial $1 million demand to $3 million , ACN reported.

“I was thinking that [the kidnappers] could be criminals, or that they are just out for money,” Sako told ACN during the negotiations for Rahho’s release. “Now I am thinking something quite different. They are organized people.”

A priest in Mosul told Compass today that the real motive for impossible ransom demands and the archbishop’s killing was to push the Christians out of the city.

“They are pressuring us to leave Mosul and leave our church,” said the priest. “And many families in Mosul are afraid, because if they killed the bishops and priests, then…”

Two other Christian clerics have been murdered in Mosul. Most recently Chaldean priest Ragheed Ganni and three deacons were gunned down while leaving the Holy Spirit church last May.

The biblical city of Nineveh has traditionally been home to Iraq’s indigenous Christian population. But in recent years it has gained a reputation as a hotbed for fanatic Islam.

“Really, we ask for prayer itself,” the Mosul priest said. “The Christians do not do anything bad, yet still they provoke us, just because we are Christian, nothing more.”

Pope Benedict XVI, who had repeatedly appealed for Rahho’s release, today expressed his sadness over the news of the archbishop’s death, Reuters reported.

An Eastern rite denomination in communion with Rome, the Chaldean church is Iraq’s largest Christian community.