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Pope Francis in Baghdad, Iraq.

Image Credit: EPA

Pope Francis arrived in Iraq today, ignoring experts advice to avoid the war-torn country due to security threats. It is the first papal visit to Iraq. He met with Prime Minister of Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih. Iraq has imposed a four-day curfew for the duration of Pope Francis visit, in an attempt to minimize security and health risks.

Apart from the security risks posed by militants and Islamic State (ISIS), and health risks due to the surge in coronavirus cases, the Pope felt that it was of utmost importance to visit the country. The country is reporting around 5,000 new coronavirus cases daily.

Pope Francis and his entourage have all been vaccinated against coronavirus. He gave a speech shortly afterward where he urged peace and solidarity.

Pope Francis aims to meet the dwindling Christian community in the country. The number of Christians in Iraq fell down from 1.5 million to 300,000 in the last 20 years.

For some time I have wanted to meet that people who suffered so much. The people of Iraq are waiting for us. They were waiting for St. Pope John Paul II, who was not allowed to go. The people cannot be let down for a second time. Let us pray that this trip can be carried out well

Pope Francis said last Wednesday.

Back in 2000, Pope John Paul II attempted to visit Iraq, but it was later on cancelled after breakdown of talks between the Vatican and Saddam Hussein.

At the Presidential Palace in Baghdad, Pope Francis urged end to violence and extremism in the country. He urged Iraqi officials to fight corruption, contempt of law and abuse of power.

The Pope also referred to the persecuted minorities, the Yazidis.

Here, among so many people who have suffered, my thoughts turn to the Yazidis, innocent victims of senseless and cruel atrocities.

Pope Francis.

The Yazidi community have been devastated back in 2014, when ISIS took huge swathes of Iraq.

On Saturday, the Pope will hold a meeting with the Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the city of Najaf in Southern Iraq.

On Sunday, will travel to Mosul, which used to be a stronghold of ISIS. The city was captured by ISIS fighters in 2014 and liberated in 2017.

ISIS still remains a threat, as they have not been completely defeated. They regularly carry out bombings and ambushes. Read more about this here:

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