Pope Francis urges Iraq to end violence and give peace a chance

WION Web Team
Baghdad, Iraq Published: Mar 05, 2021, 11:01 PM(IST)

Pope Francis in Baghdad Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The pope's whirlwind four-day tour will take him by plane, helicopter and cars to four cities, including areas that most foreign dignitaries are unable to reach, let alone in such a short space of time.

Pope Francis Friday began his historic foreign trip, flying into Iraq amid the tightest security ever seen for a papal visit. The country has deployed thousands of security personnel to protect him during the visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks and a spike in COVID-19 cases.

In Iraq, the pope appealed to the country's leaders and people to end militant violence and religious strife. Even before he landed, he told reporters on his plane that he felt duty-bound to make what he called an "emblematic" trip despite the difficulties because the country "has been martyred for so many years".

At the official welcome in the presidential palace, the 84-year-old Francis made an impassioned call for Iraqi to finally give peacemakers chance.

"May the clash of arms be silenced ... may there be an end to acts of violence and extremism," he said.

President Barham Salih thanked the pope for making the first-ever papal visit to Iraq "despite the many recommendations to delay" because of the pandemic and other challenges in "our wounded country".

In his speech at the palace, Francis criticised factional and foreign interests that have destabilised Iraq and the wider region and hit ordinary people the hardest.

Also read | Pope Francis arrives in Baghdad on historic visit to Iraq

"Iraq has suffered the disastrous effects of wars, the scourge of terrorism and sectarian conflicts often grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups," Francis said.

He later paid tribute to people killed in attacks motivated by religion, visiting a Baghdad church where Islamist gunmen killed about 50 worshippers in 2010.

Their deaths were a reminder that "violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings", he said.

Iraq's security has improved since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017, but the country continues to be a theatre for global and regional score-settling, especially a bitter US-Iran rivalry that has played out on Iraqi soil.

The US invasion of 2003, after years of international sanctions and a devastating war with Iran instigated by former leader Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, plunged Iraq into sectarian conflict and chronic mismanagement that has plagued it since.

The pope's whirlwind four-day tour will take him by plane, helicopter and cars to four cities, including areas that most foreign dignitaries are unable to reach, let alone in such a short space of time.

On Saturday the pope will hold an unprecedented meeting with Iraq's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the southern city of Najaf. He will also visit Ur, birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and will return to say Mass in Baghdad.

On Sunday Francis travels north to Mosul, a former stronghold of Islamic State, where churches and other buildings there still bear the scars of conflict.

(with inputs from agencies)

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