Chaldean priest kidnapped in Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq - A priest of the Catholic Chaldean church has been kidnapped in Baghdad.

"Father Saad Syrop had just finished celebrating the mass of the Assumption on Tuesday evening in St James Church and was heading home when armed men in a white car grabbed him just outside the presbytery," senior local churchman Monsignor Jacques Isaac said Friday.

"A member of the congregation who was with him was freed, but the men left with the priest without giving any explanation," said Isaac, the head of Baghdad's theological college and one of the city's leading Christians.

Father Syrop was seized in the southern neighbourhood of Dura, a district that was once the scene of some of the most intense violence in the city but which has now been sealed off by a joint US and Iraqi military taskforce.

When the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 there were around one million Christians living among the 27-million-strong, mostly Muslim, population of Iraq. More than half are now thought to have fled the post-war violence.

Chaldeans, who follow an eastern rite but recognise the Pope in Rome, are the largest single Christian denomination in the country.

There have been occasional extremist attacks against churches, but by and large the Christian population has not been specifically persecuted nor been drawn into the sectarian war between Shiite and Sunni factions.

"Twenty days ago another priest, Father Raad Kashan, from the Church of the Holy Family in Battawin in Baghdad was taken. He was mistreated but released a day later after he promised a ransom. He has left the country," Isaac said.

And in January 2005, the Syrian-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Monsignor Basil Georges was held for a day before being released.

Kidnappings are extremely common in Baghdad, some carried out by insurgents, death squads or rogue security units, but most by ransom gangs. Every day dozens of corpses of kidnap victims are found around the country.