Iraq Church opposes death penalty for Archbishop's killer

An archbishop said Monday that the Iraqi Church is opposed to a court's decision to sentence to death the convicted killer of an archbishop in Mosul.

Iraqi authorities announced on Sunday that Ahmed Ali Ahmed had been sentenced to death for his involvement in the murder of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho in the northern city of Mosul, but did not release further information - including the date of Ahmed's execution.

"This conviction does not meet Christian values," said Louis Sako, the Archbishop of Kirkuk on behalf of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, to Agence France-Presse. "We are not satisfied with this decision because the Church is against the death penalty."

Sako said that he and the Church were unaware of any details regarding the trial, and did not learn about the sentence until they saw it on television.

"The announcement of the government gave very little detail," he said. "We do not know any of those responsible. We don't know why the archbishop was kidnapped, whether it was due to political, religious or criminal intentions."

In late February, Rahho, described as a man of peace loved by all Iraqis, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen while returning home after Mass. His body was found by police two weeks later at a location just north of Mosul.

The Chaldean archbishop was 65 when he was killed.

Fellow Chaldean Archbishop Sako said he fears that the death penalty will "not help improve the situation" in Iraq, which has been plagued by sectarian violence not only between Sunnis and Shiites, but also against religious minorities such as Christians.

In recent months, violence against Christians has risen, including kidnappings for ransom money, church bombings and death threats.

Under intense persecution, many Christians have been forced to flee the country to live illegally in neighbouring countries.

Christians make up nearly half of all refugees leaving the country, according to estimates, although they make up less than three per cent of the country's population. In total, nearly 2.2 million Iraqis have left the country since the US-led offensive in 2003.

There are now only about 600,000 Iraqi Christians remaining in the country - down from 1.2 million before 2003.