Pope Francis insists on trip to Iraq despite terror and Covid – 'People are waiting'

The pontiff will mark the first visit from a head of the Catholic Church to Iraq, after he was previously set to visit in 2020. The trip was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Pope John Paul II, who was set to visit in 2000, had his trip cancelled due to security risks.

The Pope’s visit to Iraq is seen as hugely significant to the less than 400,000 Christians in the country, who face persecution and violence.

President Barham Saleh officially invited Francis to visit Iraq in July 2019 in hopes it would help the country “heal”.

One Vatican official, speaking to the Arab Weekly, said Francis “is itching to get back out on the road” with his first trip outside if Italy since November 2019.

They added: “He really feels that need to reach out to people on their home ground.”

The trip comes after at least 10 unguided rockets hit the US and Iraqi-occupied Ain al-Assad air base in western Iraq early yesterday.

One contractor died as a result of the attack, the third in less than a month after a series of attacks on US-Coalition bases in Iraq.

US President Joe Biden authorised an airstrike targeting Iranian-backed militias in Syria in retaliation to the attacks.

As a result of the recent conflicts, Francis will be travelling in a bomb-and bullet-proof vehicle, rather than his open-topped white Pope-mobile.

Iraqi authorities are also deploying 10,000 police and soldiers to shield him from potential threats.

Iraq has also suffered a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with yesterday seeing the country record another 5,173 new cases and 25 new deaths.

In total, Iraq has seen 708,951 cases and 13,483 deaths.

Francis has received a vaccine against coronavirus.

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