UN calls for Iraqi action after archbishop seized

ph2008022903490.jpgBy Michael Holden
BAGHDAD, March 1 (Reuters) – The U.N. envoy to Iraq called on the government to do more to protect minorities after gunmen abducted a Chaldean Catholic archbishop in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, was seized on Friday after gunmen attacked his car in the eastern al-Nour district of the city. The kidnappers had fired on his car, killing his driver and two guards.

“It is appalling that these attacks on communities that have lived peacefully together in north Iraq for centuries are continuing,” said U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura in a statement.

He called on the government to “redouble its efforts” to protect religious minorities “recalling that the archbishop of Mosul is the latest in a long line of members of the Christian and other communities in Iraq to be killed or abducted”.

Chaldeans belong to a branch of the Roman Catholic Church that practises an ancient Eastern rite. Most of its members are in Iraq and Syria, and they form the biggest Christian community in Iraq.

Christians make up about 3 percent of Iraq’s 27 million, mostly Muslim, population and have come under attack on a number of occasions since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Last June, gunmen killed Catholic priest Ragheed Aziz Kani and three assistants in eastern Mosul after stopping their car near a church in the ethnically and religiously mixed city.

A former archbishop of Mosul, Basile Georges Casmoussa, was kidnapped at gunpoint in 2005 but was freed a day later.

Rahho was snatched after he left a church where he had been leading prayers. Pope Benedict condemned the kidnapping.

Brigadier-General Khaled Abdul Sattar, the police spokesman for Nineveh province of which Mosul is the capital, said police were searching for him.

While violence across much of Iraq has dropped in recent months, the U.S. military says Mosul remains a hotbed for al Qaeda and other insurgents.

Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced plans to drive al Qaeda out of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, which U.S. commanders say is now the Sunni Islamist group’s last urban stronghold in Iraq.

“The situation for Christians is like that for other people in Iraq. We live in the same society and we are sharing the same suffering,” said Andraws Abuna, assistant to Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad.