With Agency Report — Pope Francis on Friday began the first-ever papal trip to Iraq, landing in a country with an extraordinary biblical history but that is also experiencing a serious coronavirus outbreak and decades of war and bloodshed.
Francis’s four-day visit is his first international trip since the start of the pandemic and marks a return to the globe-trotting diplomacy — especially to minority-Christian countries — that had been his hallmark. It amounts to a show of encouragement for a nation trying to recover from the chaos of a U.S.-led invasion and the brutality of the Islamic State, a group that once vowed to “conquer Rome.”
The pope’s visit comes as militias are competing for power and launching rocket attacks. Iraqi security forces have killed and wounded scores of protesters in recent weeks. The Islamic State has been beaten back, but not fully eliminated. And coronavirus cases have climbed higher and higher over the past month, prompting the Iraqi government to impose a curfew and other restrictions, including against religious gatherings.
As the Pope flew toward Baghdad, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq issued a warning to American citizens there. “Attacks may occur with little or no warning, impacting airports, tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities,” it said. It was unclear whether the alert was based on new information, or simply reiterating longstanding risks.
Francis is the first pope to visit Iraq. But his trip, for most Iraqis, will be a TV-only event.