Obama Visits Iraq, Prelate Pleads for US to Stay

Prays That Blood of Martyrs Promotes Peace

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KIRKUK, Iraq, APRIL 7, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Noting five recent murders of Christians, the archbishop of Kirkuk is stating that the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq could put the Church in further danger.

Today, U.S. President Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to soldiers in Baghdad, where he stated that it is time for Iraqis to “take responsibility for their country.”

The president, stopping over after trips to Europe and Turkey, has a plan to withdraw the troops gradually over the next 19 months, after ensuring the safety of the national elections.

Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk noted his concern earlier this week that the withdrawal would create a “vacuum” that could “lead to further violence” and result in civil war, reported AsiaNews.

He explained that the country’s “ethnic and religious groups have not become truly reconciled and the security situation remains fragile.”

“The army and local police are not able to maintain law and order in the country,” he added.

The prelate reported five killings within the Christian communities in Kirkuk, Baghdad and Mosul last week, noting that the violence could drive more people into exile, in a “never-ending” exodus of Christians that is depleting the 2,000-year old Church.

He reported that one man, Sabah Aziz Solaiman, 71, was killed in his Kirkuk home by robbers. In Mosul, Abdul Aziz Elias Aziz, an electrical generator repairman, was shot in front of his workshop.

Another man, Nimroud Khodir Moshi, was shot in front of his Baghdad restaurant, and in the same city two sisters, 47 and 60, were also killed last week.

Archbishop Sako stated: “As Holy Week begins, let us pray for peace and stability in Iraq. Let us pray that the blood of our martyrs may restore peace.

“The Crucified and Risen Christ calls upon us to persevere and maintain our presence and witness.”

A Chaldean Catholic bishop in Mosul told the news agency that “the community is being targeted by organized crime groups.”

He added: “They are going after Christians because of their commercial activities, attracted by the money and wealth the latter have built up in a lifetime of toil and sweat.

In the past, he explained, “these thugs were covered and protected by al-Qaeda,” but now that the “ideological and confessional” element is disappearing, “ordinary criminals and organized crime [groups] are rearing their head, drawn by money, ready to kill in cold blood.”

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