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Released archbishop calls for Iraq poll delay

Following his release after a 24 hour kidnap ordeal early last week, the archbishop of the Syrian Catholic archdiocese of Mosul told Vatican Radio that Iraq is not ready for elections.

"I don't think this is the right moment," he said. "The very first thing we need is security and reconciliation."

The Tablet reports that Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, 66, was kidnapped from in front of a church in the city and bundled into a car. He was released on Tuesday. The paper says analysts believe the kidnap was most probably carried out by a fringe group of Sunni extremists with Ba'athist connections.

Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel Delly of Baghdad said there had been a number of kidnappings of Christians and Muslims in the Mosul area in recent weeks and "there is confirmation that these are not deliberate attacks against Christians." He added that the "real problem" is that Iraq is in a state of chaos. Analysts remain unsure as to whether the motive for the archbishop's kidnapping was political, sectarian or financial in a country where kidnapping for ransom is common amid mounting sectarian violence in the run-up to Iraq's national elections on 30 January.

Mosul is split demographically into four groups; Christians, Kurds, Sunnis and Assyrians. There is currently a battle for influence in the city, especially in light of its proximity to the Kurdish-controlled north and the Syrian border. The city is home to one of Iraq's largest Christian communities, with some 35,000 Christians from the Chaldean and Syrian Eastern rites.

There has been an increase in attacks on Iraq's Christian communities in recent months. Last August, five churches in Baghdad and Mosul were bombed in coordinated attacks that killed 12 people.

Meanwhile Catholic News Service is reporting on increased apprehension within the tiny Chrisian minority in Iraq.

"Christians live like all people in Iraq, they have the same worries," said the apostolic nuncio to Iraq, Chaldaean Archbishop Fernando Filoni. "But given these attacks, Christians are even more worried; it's understandable the church finds itself in double the difficulty."

Chaldean Catholics, who make up the majority of Iraq's Christians, "resent the idea they are being identified as Western because they are original inhabitants" in Iraq, dating back to "before the time of Mohammed and the coming of Islam," Msgr. Stern told Catholic News Service.

Despite Archbishop Casmoussa's statement on Vatican Radio, Catholic News Service said most Catholic leaders in Iraq and especially the Vatican want Sunday's elections for a transitional National Assembly to go ahead as scheduled.

Released archbishop calls for Iraq poll delay (The Tablet 22/1/05)
Despite reassurances, minority Christians in Iraq are afraid (Catholic News Service 21/1/05)

Iraqi Archbishop Deeply Reflects on Life & Peace after Release from Captors (Christian Today 21/1/05)
John L Allen: Christians in Iraq (National Catholic Reporter 20/1/05)

24 Jan 2005