- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 6, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — An Assyrian Orthodox priest was fatally shot yesterday by gunmen using silencers as the Christian cleric and his wife returned home after a trip to the market in Baghdad.

The latest attack against Iraq’s Christian minority drew a new plea from Pope Benedict XVI for Iraqis to “find the way of peace to build a just and tolerant society.”

Father Youssef Adel, 47, had tried to escape the sectarian violence, fleeing the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora at a time when insurgents were burning down churches and uprooting Christians from their homes on threat of death.

He moved with his wife, Lamia, to a relatively safe area in the mostly Shi’ite central district of Karradah and presided over services at the nearby St. Peter and Paul church, according to an assistant who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Father Adel was slain by gunmen near the gate of his house, another priest in the same church said. The gunmen used silencers, and his wife, who was with him, did not realize what happened until she saw her husband collapse.

Father Adel’s assistant said the priest, who was married but had no children, directed a religiously mixed school for Muslims and Christians at the church. An engineer, he became a priest about six years ago.

Christians have frequently been caught up in the violence or been targeted in this predominantly Muslim country.

The body of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, one of Iraq’s most senior Chaldean Catholic clerics, was found March 13, about two weeks after he was seized by gunmen in the volatile northwestern city of Mosul.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, a bomb exploded on a minibus carrying morning commuters on the busy Palestine Street, killing at least four passengers and wounding 15, police said.

The victims were primarily workers and vendors from the Sadr City district, who were on their way to commercial districts elsewhere in the capital.

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, eased security measures in two Baghdad neighborhoods that are strongholds of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia — Sadr City and Shula — amid complaints of food shortages nearly a week after the radical Shi’ite cleric issued a cease-fire order.

Trucks carrying maintenance teams, food, oil products and ambulances are now allowed to get into the areas, said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad’s chief Iraqi military spokesman.

While Sheik al-Sadr’s order put an end to large-scale fighting that broke out over a government crackdown in the southern city of Basra, clashes have continued between his fighters and Iraqi security forces.

Sporadic gunbattles erupted between militia fighters and Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. helicopters in Sadr City yesterday evening, and one of the gunmen was killed, according to local police.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said a helicopter had launched a precision air strike Friday, killing a gunman, in support of Iraqi ground forces under fire in the militia stronghold of Hayaniyah.

Police said five people were killed in the strike, including civilians and an unspecified number of militants who had fired a mortar at Iraqi security forces.

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