Iraq: Refuge Lost; Archbishop Kidnapped

General March 5, 2008


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 468 |

Iraq's indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christian population has halved
over the course of the Iraq war. Hundreds of thousands have been
driven out of their homes in the Shi'ite south and the Sunni centre
through violent, systematic religious-ethnic cleansing and terror.
They are now struggling to survive, either as refugees outside the
country, or as internally displaced people (IDPs) in northern Iraq
where there is an established Assyrian Christian community in the
historic Assyrian homeland of Upper Mesopotamia (the Nineveh Plains
around Mosul). Northern Iraq was once the most secure and stable
region of Iraq, but is no longer.

In mid-2006 American forces drove al-Qaeda out of the Sunni centre.
Those terrorists relocated and consolidated in northern Iraq and
now openly describe Mosul as the 'cradle of the Islamic State of
Iraq' (Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor, 27 February). For
18 months now, Islamists in Mosul have been terrorising the
Christian community, bombing churches and kidnapping and
assassinating religious leaders. Through this strategy they aim to
crush the community's spirit and ultimately drive Christianity out
of Iraq.

On Friday 29 February, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj
Rahho (65) was leaving Mosul's Holy Spirit Cathedral after
celebrating the rite of the Way of the Cross when his car was
ambushed by Islamic terrorists. In a premeditated and highly
organised attack, Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped while his driver,
Faris, and bodyguards, Rami and Samir, were shot and killed.
Compass Direct reports that Faris, Rami and Samir each leave behind
a wife and three children. Catholic News Agency reports the
kidnappers have demanded a $1.8 million ransom for Archbishop
Rahho.

According to Compass Direct, Archbishop Rahho had been under
constant attack from Islamic militants trying to extort money. The
day before he was kidnapped, his home was attacked and vandalised
by militants demanding money, which the Archbishop refused to pay.
Father Bashar Warda, Dean of St Peter's Seminary in Erbil, told
Compass that the stress of the situation has weakened the
Archbishop's heart and he now requires medication. 'His health is
one of the issues that concerns us because it is not good, and his
medicine is not with him,' Fr Warda told Compass. 'Prayer is
needed.'

The war has slowly moved north leaving polarised -- some say
'stabilised' -- communities in its wake. Now war looms over
northern Iraq like a dark storm waiting to break. When war erupts
it will dwarf all Iraq's conflicts to date, centred around the
battle for oil-rich Kirkuk. It will involve Kurdish separatists,
Turkish nationalists, Arab Sunnis, Arab Shi'ites, nationalists and
Islamist jihadists, those who want to dismember Iraq and those who
want to control Iraq as a whole -- all against each other.
Militants are amassing funds and jostling for supremacy in these
days of escalating terror which are a prelude to the coming war.
Unfortunately Iraq's Christians do not have oil, gas, precious
minerals or control of drugs or geo-strategic territory -- things
that generally buy help in this materialistic age of the competing
regimes in which we live. They do, however, have a merciful,
sovereign Almighty Father. Iraq's Christians need our prayers.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR --

* Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, that our Almighty God and Father
will guard his body and soul and that the Holy Spirit will
counsel, comfort and sustain him, fixing his eyes on Jesus, the
author and perfecter of his faith. (Hebrews 12:2) May God
mercifully return him to the church to spare them 'sorrow upon
sorrow'.

'Indeed he [Epaphroditus] was ill, and almost died. But God had
mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me
sorrow upon sorrow.' (Philippians 2:27 NIV)

* God to preserve and sanctify the Church in Iraq so that it will
grow in grace for a blessed future. 'Consider him who endured
such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary
and lose heart.' (Hebrews 12:3 NIV)

* God to command heavenly and earthly forces to protect and rescue
Iraq's threatened Christians. 'It is better to take refuge in
the Lord than to trust in man.' (Psalm 118:8 NIV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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REFUGE LOST IN IRAQ; ARCHBISHOP KIDNAPPED

After the US purged al-Qaeda from Iraq's Sunni centre in mid-2006,
al-Qaeda made Mosul in northern Iraq its new base. Terrorism there
then escalated with a continual stream of church bombings as well
as the kidnap and assassination of Christian leaders. On 29
February, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho (65) was
leaving Mosul's Holy Spirit Cathedral after celebrating the Way of
the Cross when his car was ambushed by terrorists. Archbishop Rahho
was kidnapped while his driver and two bodyguards were shot and
killed. A $1.8 million ransom has been demanded. Mosul is no longer
a refuge for Assyrian Christians and a full-scale war looms. Iraq's
Christians desperately need our prayers. (Psalm 118:8)

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RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
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Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.