World leaders condemn death of Iraqi archbishop

Mosul, Mar. 14, 2008 ( – As Archbishop Paulos Faraj Raho was buried on March 14, world leaders joined in condemning the kidnapping that led to the Chaldean prelate’s death.

After seizing Archbishop Raho on February 29, in a bloody assault in which three of the prelate’s companions were killed, the kidnappers informed authorities on March 13 that they had left the archbishop’s body in a shallow grave outside Mosul.

Witnesses reported that there were no signs of bullet wounds on the archbishop’s body, but there were indications that he had been dead for some time before his body was discovered. The kidnappers, who had demanded a large monetary payment and the fulfillment of certain political conditions for the archbishop’s release, had spurned all requests to provide evidence that Archbishop Raho was still alive. The archbishop suffered from a heart condition for which he took daily medication.

Whether the Iraqi archbishop died of heart problems or was executed by his captors, world leader agreed that the kidnappers were morally responsible for his death. “I deplore the despicable act of violence committed against the Archbishop of Mosul,” said US President George W. Bush. Pope Benedict XVI (bionews) had already termed the death an “inhuman act of violence.” British foreign secretary David Miliband added that the kidnapping was “a cowardly act.”

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who had ordered an all-out hunt for the archbishop’s kidnappers, vowed that “the perpetrators of this horrible crime will not escape the long arm of justice.” The Iraqi leader blamed Al Qaida terrorists, who maintain a stronghold in Mosul.

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly presided at the Friday funeral for Archbishop Raho. Under heavy security, Christian mourners carried the archbishop’s coffin to a grave outside Mosul.

The archbishop’s death underlines the precarious conditions facing the Christian minority in Iraq. The kidnapping of Catholic clerics and bombing of churches have induced tens of thousands of Christian families to leave their homes– in many cases leaving Iraq entirely.