Another priest was found murdered in northern Iraq on Thursday, sparking U.S. lawmakers, human rights advocates, and the Vatican to demand that the Bush administration take more vigorous measures to protect Iraq’s beleaguered Christian community.
It has also provoked outrage among some of President Bush’s staunchest supporters.
“The murder of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho is on the hands of President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,” William J. Murray, the chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, told Newsmax.
“Their refusal to assist the persecuted Christians in Iraq has emboldened Islamists to pillage, rape, and murder them. Had the Bush administration been proactive, the archbishop’s life could have been sparred,” Murray said.
“The administration will not even allow Christians in Iraq to form a police force while giving Islamist extremists such as Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr the right to maintain small armies,” Murray added. “The blame here belongs to George W. Bush.”
The body of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop, who was 65, was discovered near Mosul yesterday. He was kidnapped on Feb. 29 after celebrating mass at the Church of the Holy Spirit near Mosul city.
During the ambush, gunmen shot and killed Rahho’s driver and a bodyguard. A second bodyguard died later of gunshot wounds at a hospital.
Police in Mosul received an anonymous phone call on Thursday telling them where the body of the archbishop was buried, according to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA). Police said that the condition of the archbishop’s body indicated that he had been dead for around a week and that his body showed no bullet wounds.
“The president has yet to publicly acknowledge the scope of the crisis facing the remaining Iraqi Christian community,” Father Keith Roderick, the Washington representative of Christian Solidarity International, told Newsmax.
Roderick said he worried that the Iraqi Christian community, close to 1 million strong before the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq in 2003, “is headed toward extinction.” He called on the president to respond with “a policy to ensure greater security and a plan to resettle the upwards of 40 percent of the Christians who have fled their homes because of violence and threats of violence.”
Just one day before Rahho’s body was found, aides to Pope Benedict XVI told editors at the Washington Times that the Pope would plead with President Bush and U.S. officials during his upcoming Washington visit to intervene with the Iraqi government on behalf of the kidnapped archbishop.
On March 6, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., wrote to Rice, asking her to “personally ask the Iraqi government to commit any and all necessary resources to ensure the archbishop’s safe return.”
Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., wrote separately to Rice, asking her to “make a public statement regarding the kidnapping of Archbishop Rahho.” Rice remained silent.
A search of public statements by Rice on the State Department Web site yields a single, parenthetical mention of Chaldean Christians in Iraq dating from May 2005.
Yesterday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement of condolence to the Chaldean community after the archbishop’s body had been found, calling the murder “ a terrible and tragic act of terrorism.”
The Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America (CASCA) called the archbishop’s murder “a sad day for the Chaldean Assyrian Syriacs of Iraq and for the entire world of Christianity,” and warned that it was “just one more example of the threat the Christian minority is living under in Iraq.”
In Detroit, the Chaldean Federation of America has launched a program to funnel aid to Iraqi Christians who have fled their homes to neighboring Jordan and Syria through its “Adopt a Refugee Family Program.”
In less than six months, the program has “adopted” 1,000 refugees, and hopes to adopt 5,000 refugees by the end of 2008, program Chairman Basil Bakal told Newsmax.
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