Iraqi police commander held in church attack

Baghdad, Iraq - An Iraqi police commander was detained for questioning Tuesday in connection with the deadly attack on a Catholic church in the capital as a top political leader blamed the carnage in part on lax security.

Meanwhile, hundreds of grieving Christians and other Iraqis packed a funeral service for the dead in a sanctuary not far from the Our Lady of Salvation church where Islamic militants killed 58 people and wounded nearly 80 in a shocking attack during a Sunday evening Mass.

Iraq's top Catholic prelate, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, urged the government to protect the nation's Christian community and not let their promises just be ink on paper.

"We are gathered here in this sacred house to say farewell for our brothers who were just the day before yesterday exclaiming love and peace," Delly told a weeping congregation at the Chaldean St. Joseph church in central Baghdad. "Now fate has decided that they will leave us."

An Iraqi military spokesman said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the detention of the police commander, whom he did not identify by name. The commander was in charge of securing the Karradah neighborhood in Baghdad where Our Lady of Salvation is located.

The attack was the worst in years on Iraq's already dwindling Christian community.

Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the assault was "very painful" for the stunned nation because "it harbors a sinister plan to empty the region of one of its main components: the Christians."

"Such bombings in Iraq refer to an important security breach which should be quickly handled," Adel Abdul-Mahdi, in Damascus, Syria, told The Associated Press.

Abdul-Mahdi is a top leader of a fundamentalist Shiite political coalition in Iraq that is reluctant to support al-Maliki for a second term in office.

France offered late Monday to grant asylum to 150 Iraqi Christians, including some of those wounded in the siege.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson said the decision is in accordance with France's tradition as a safe haven for persecuted minorities. France has been taking in Iraqi Christians since 2007.

Some 1,300 Iraqi Christians have received asylum under the program, which is run jointly with the United Nations refugee agency.