urges world to protect Iraq Christians(AFP)

AMMAN – Pope Benedict XVI urged the world to make every effort to protect Iraq’s Christian minority in a speech on Saturday to Muslim leaders in neighbouring Jordan.

Among his audience in Amman’s huge Al-Hussein Mosque was Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, head of the Chaldean Church, Iraq’s largest Christian denomination, who made the trip to the Jordanian capital for the papal visit.

“I urge diplomats and the international community they represent, together with local political and religious leaders, to do everything possible to ensure the ancient Christian community of that noble land its fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens,” the pontiff said.

Estimated to number some 800,000 at the time of the US-led invasion of 2003, Christians have been prominent among the 2.7 million Iraqis who fled their homes during the sectarian violence that followed and as few as 400,000 are now believed to remain in their homeland.

The pope also called for continued efforts to reconcile Iraq’s feuding religious groups and reconstruct the country after decades of war and sanctions.

“The international community’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation, together with those of the local leaders, must continue in order to bear fruit in the lives of Iraqis,” he said.

“I wish to express my appreciation for all those who are assisting in the endeavours to deepen trust and to rebuild the institutions and infrastructure essential to the well-being of that society.”

He paid tribute to the Jordanian authorities for giving “welcome refuge” to large numbers of the Iraqis fleeing the violence in their homeland. Only Syria has taken in more Iraqi refugees.

The pope has a longstanding invitation to visit Iraq but the still restive country is not on the itinerary for his current Holy Land tour, his first since becoming pontiff. He is to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories after Jordan