Safin Hamed  /  AFP-Getty Images
Iraqi Christians carry the coffin of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho during his funeral in the northern Iraqi Christian village of Kremlis on Friday.
updated 3/14/2008 4:21:22 PM ET 2008-03-14T20:21:22

Carrying flowers and olive branches, mourners wept and wailed as they carried a wooden coffin holding the body of one of Iraq's most senior Chaldean Catholic clerics for a proper burial in northern Iraq on Friday.

Leading the procession down the streets of a village outside Mosul was a church official who held a wooden cross with Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho's picture. Rahho's body was found Thursday in a shallow grave just weeks after he was kidnapped.

"He was a man of honesty, loyalty and peace," Iraqi Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly said during a nearly hourlong funeral Mass. "He was loved by all Iraqi people."

Pope Benedict XVI, President Bush and Iraq's prime minister all deplored the attack. U.S. officials in Baghdad also issued a statement Friday, calling it "one more savage attempt by a barbaric enemy to sow strife and discord."

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians have been targeted by Islamic extremists who label them "crusaders" loyal to U.S. troops.

Militants have attacked churches, priests and businesses owned by Christians, many of whom have fled the country in a trend mirrored across the Islamic world.

Rahho, 65, was seized on Feb. 29 in Mosul, a city the U.S. military considers the last urban stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq. Three of his aides were killed during the kidnapping, the latest in a series of attacks on Iraq's small Christian community.

It was not immediately clear if Rahho was killed or if he died of an illness while in captivity. The archbishop had recently undergone surgery to remove a blood clot from his leg, according to church officials speaking on condition of anonymity for security concerns.

A Mosul morgue official, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said Rahho had not been shot.

The official said police found the body in an early stage of decomposition under a thin layer of dirt just north of the city, suggesting Rahho had been dead several days.

There have been no claims of responsibility for the kidnapping or death.

The Chaldean church is an Eastern-rite denomination aligned with the Roman Catholic Church that recognizes the authority of the pope. Chaldean Catholics make up a tiny minority of the current Iraqi population but are the largest group among the less than 1 million Christians in Iraq, according to last year's International Religious Freedom Report from the U.S. State Department.

On Friday, there were few reports of violence elsewhere in Iraq. Two suicide car bombs exploded within seconds of each other at an Iraqi army checkpoint in Mosul, killing three and wounding five civilians, police said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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