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Post  Waqar Daniel on Sat 15 Mar 2008, 12:20 am

Near the northern city of Mosul, which the U.S. military says is al Qaeda's last urban stronghold, hundreds of Iraqi Christians mourned the death of kidnapped Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.

The abduction and death of Rahho, 65, was the most high-profile attack on Iraq's Christians since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. It drew international condemnation, including from U.S. President George W. Bush and Pope Benedict.

Hundreds of mostly Christian mourners crowded into the Mar Eddy church in Rahho's home village of Kramleis, east of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, to pay their last respects.

"I ask the people of the church to be steadfast and patient," Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad and leader of Iraq's Christians, told mourners.

Chaldeans belong to a branch of the Roman Catholic Church that practices an ancient Eastern rite and form the biggest Christian community in mostly Muslim Iraq, although tens of thousands are reported to have fled Iraq.

"I appeal to God that this awful act will help the peace process in this tortured country," Delly said.

Rahho was abducted on Feb. 29 after gunmen attacked his car and killed his driver and two guards. His body was found in a shallow grave in eastern Mosul on Thursday. It was not clear how Rahho, who was known to suffer poor health, had died.

Police at the Mosul morgue said he appeared to have been dead a week and his body bore no bullet wounds. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has blamed al Qaeda for his death.

Pope Benedict has repeatedly spoken of his concern about the plight of Christians in the Middle East. A number of Christian clergy have been kidnapped and killed and churches bombed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim, Mohammed Abbas and Aws Qusay in Baghdad; writing by Mohammed Abbas and Randy Fabi; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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Waqar Daniel

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