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The Pope is protected by armed guards & gun-mounted trucks on Iraq tour as he prays for peace in war-torn country

POPE Francis is being protected by armed guards and a huge security entourage – including gun-mounted trucks – in Iraq as he visits sites and prays for peace in the war-torn nation.

The 84-year-old arrived in country today for a four-day trip – defying fears over security risks and the country’s spiralling Covid infection rate.

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The Pope has arrived in Iraq for a four-day trip despite security and Covid fearsCredit: Reuters
Armed soldiers pitured patrolling during the Pope's arrival

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Armed soldiers pitured patrolling during the Pope’s arrivalCredit: AP:Associated Press
Trucks with guns on top have been protecting the Pope in Baghdad

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Trucks with guns on top have been protecting the Pope in BaghdadCredit: AP:Associated Press
Soldiers pictured on top of a roof during the Pope's visit to Our Lady of Salvation church

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Soldiers pictured on top of a roof during the Pope’s visit to Our Lady of Salvation churchCredit: Reuters
Security forces standing guard in Iraq during the Pope's visit

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Security forces standing guard in Iraq during the Pope’s visitCredit: AP:Associated Press
Security has been ramped up amid the Pope's visit

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Security has been ramped up amid the Pope’s visitCredit: Reuters

The historic tour is the first time a pontiff has visited Iraq, with the Pope saying he was coming as a “pilgrim of peace”.

The Pope has been surrounded by armed guards since arriving in the country amid security fears.

Iraq has deployed thousands of additional security personnel to protect the Pope during his visit – which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks raised concerns for his safety.

Cops on motorbikes, armed guards and truck with guns on top have been pictured in Baghdad today as the Pope makes his way around.

Soldiers were even spotted atop a roof as he visited a church in the city this afternoon, the site of the worst ever single massacre of Iraqi Christians.

It is reported threats to blow up the Pope have been scrawled on the walls of the building in Iraq.

Police are believed to have secured the area and are reviewing CCTV footage to identify assailants.

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.

Armed security guards have been deployed to protetthe Pope

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Armed security guards have been deployed to protetthe PopeCredit: AP:Associated Press
Police have been patrolling Baghdad on motorbikes today after the Pope arrived

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Police have been patrolling Baghdad on motorbikes today after the Pope arrivedCredit: EPA
A welcome ceremony was held following the Pope's arrival at Baghdad International Airport

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A welcome ceremony was held following the Pope’s arrival at Baghdad International AirportCredit: Alamy Live News
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi welcomes Pope Francis to start his tour

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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi welcomes Pope Francis to start his tourCredit: Reuters
Pope Francis is being flanked by security guards as he visits sites in Iraq

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Pope Francis is being flanked by security guards as he visits sites in IraqCredit: Vatican Media
The Pope is visitng different sites in the war-torn country

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The Pope is visitng different sites in the war-torn countryCredit: EPA

The Pope is making the trip to reassure Iraq’s dwindling Christian community, and he will also reach out to Shi’ite Muslims when he meets Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Pope Francis has felt duty-bound to make the “emblematic” visit – his first international trip since the pandemic began – because the country had suffered so much for so long.

This afternoon, he tweeted: “I come as a penitent, asking forgiveness from Heaven and our brothers for so much destruction and cruelty; a pilgrim of peace, in the name of Christ, Prince of Peace.

“How we have prayed, in these years, for peace in #Iraq! God always listens. It is up to us to walk His paths.”

He has insisted on making the trip despite a “highly-infectious” coronavirus variant ravaging the country.

Infectious disease experts previously expressed concerns over the trip, given a sharp rise in cases in Iraq and its fragile healthcare system.

The unavoidable likelihood of huge crowds filling the streets to see the Pope has also ignited superspreader Covid concerns.

Large groups of people waving Iraqi Vatican flags have been pictured in Baghdad, where the Pope today landed.

A gust of wind blow Pope Francis mantle as he stands by the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi

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A gust of wind blow Pope Francis mantle as he stands by the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-KadhimiCredit: AP:Associated Press
Crowds awaiting the Pope's arrival in Baghdad

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Crowds awaiting the Pope’s arrival in BaghdadCredit: Reuters
The Pope has arrived in Iraq for a four-day visit

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The Pope has arrived in Iraq for a four-day visitCredit: Reuters
Honour guards lined up to greet the Pope

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Honour guards lined up to greet the PopeCredit: Reuters
Crowds of people gathered in Baghdad to greet the Pope

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Crowds of people gathered in Baghdad to greet the PopeCredit: Reuters

An Alitalia plane carrying him, his entourage, a security detail, and about 75 journalists, left Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport for the four-and-a-half hour flight to Baghdad this morning.

After touching down at around 2pm local time (11am GMT), the Pope, who wore a facemask during the flight, kept it on as he descended the stairs to the tarmac where a red carpet had been rolled out

He was greeted at Baghdad International Airport by two masked children in traditional dress and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi for a welcome ceremony to mark the start of his tour.

A largely unmasked choir sang songs as the Pope made his way to a welcome area in the airport.

Both the Pope and the prime minister took their masks off as they sat down for their first meeting, seated a short distance apart. 

The Pope then rolled down the window of his car to wave at some of the hundreds of people who gathered to greet him as his motorcade rolled through Iraq’s capital on the way to meet with President Barham Salih and other officials.

Horsemen carrying both Iraqi and Vatican flags escorted his motorcade inside the Green Zone, which houses key government buildings and foreign embassies.

Salih greeted Francis outside the presidential palace. Both men wore masks as a band played the Vatican and Iraqi national anthems.

Francis, who has been vaccinated along with his entourage, shook hands with several Iraqi officials before giving a speech during a ceremony.

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.

“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,” he said.

Pope Francis shook hands with President Barham Salih

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Pope Francis shook hands with President Barham SalihCredit: AP:Associated Press
The Pope has visited the presidential palace in Baghdad

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The Pope has visited the presidential palace in BaghdadCredit: AP:Associated Press
The Pope talking with President Barham Salih during his visit to be presidential palace

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The Pope talking with President Barham Salih during his visit to be presidential palaceCredit: Reuters
Pope Francis delivered a speech during a ceremony at the presidential palace

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Pope Francis delivered a speech during a ceremony at the presidential palaceCredit: Reuters

“I am happy to be making trips again,” he said in brief comments to reporters aboard the plane, alluding to the coronavirus pandemic which has prevented him from travelling.

The Iraq trip is his first outside Italy since November 2019.

“This is an emblematic trip and it is a duty towards a land that has been martyred for so many years,” Francis said, before donning a mask and greeting each reporter individually, without shaking hands.

Today, Pope Francis has visited Our Lady of Salvation Church, the site where deadliest single assault ever recorded against Iraq’s Christians took place.

On October 31, 2010, Islamic militants seized the Baghdad church during Sunday evening mass, killing dozens of people – including two priests – in a terrifying four-hour siege.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an offshoot of al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack at the Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church.

During his visit to the church today, the Pope paid tribute to people killed in attacks motivated by religion.

“Their deaths are a powerful reminder that inciting war, hateful attitudes, violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teaching,” he said.

Pope Francis has visited Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, the site of the worst ever single massacre of Iraqi Christians

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Pope Francis has visited Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, the site of the worst ever single massacre of Iraqi ChristiansCredit: AFP or licensors
An Iraqi woman offered the Pope a bouquet of flowers as he arrived at the church

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An Iraqi woman offered the Pope a bouquet of flowers as he arrived at the churchCredit: AFP or licensors
The Pope tweeted during his first day in Iraq to say he comes as 'a pilgrim of peace'

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The Pope tweeted during his first day in Iraq to say he comes as ‘a pilgrim of peace’

He is set to visit more churches attacked by Islamist extremists during his trip – the country’s first papal visit – as he looks to provide hope to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, which has seen a sharp decrease in numbers.

Iraq was estimated to have nearly 1.5million Christians prior to the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Now, church officials estimate only a few hundred thousand, or even fewer, remain within Iraq’s borders.

The Pope hopes to encourage Christians to stay in their homeland.

“I come among you as a pilgrim of peace, to repeat you are all brothers,” Francis said in a video-message to the Iraqi people on the eve of his visit.

“I come as a pilgrim of peace in search of fraternity, animated by the desire to pray together and walk together, also with brothers and sisters of other religious traditions.”

Francis’s whirlwind tour will take him by plane, helicopter and possibly armoured car to four cities, including areas that most foreign dignitaries are unable to reach, let alone in such a short space of time.

He will say Mass at a Baghdad church, meet Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric in the southern city of Najaf and travel north to Mosul, where the army had to empty the streets for security reasons last year for a visit by Iraq’s prime minister.

The 84-year-old was greeted at the airport by children in traditional dress

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The 84-year-old was greeted at the airport by children in traditional dressCredit: Reuters
It is the Pope's first international trip since the pandemic began

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It is the Pope’s first international trip since the pandemic beganCredit: Getty Images – Getty
It is the first time the Pope has visited Iraq

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It is the first time the Pope has visited IraqCredit: Reuters

Mosul is a former Islamic State stronghold, and churches and other buildings there still bear the scars of conflict.

Since the defeat of the Islamic State militants in 2017, Iraq has seen a greater degree of security, though violence persists, often in the form of rocket attacks by Iran-aligned militias on US targets, and US military action in response.

On Wednesday, 10 rockets landed on an airbase that hosts US, coalition and Iraqi forces. Hours later, Francis reaffirmed he would travel to Iraq.

Islamic State also remains a threat. In January, a suicide attack claimed by the Sunni militant group killed 32 people in Baghdad’s deadliest such attack for years.

Francis will meet clergy at a Baghdad church where Islamist gunmen killed more than 50 worshippers in 2010.

Violence against minority groups in Iraq, especially when a third of the country was being run by Islamic State, has reduced its ancient Christian community to a fifth of its once 1.5 million people.

The pontiff will also visit Ur, birthplace of the prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and meet Iraq’s revered top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The meeting with Sistani, who wields great influence over Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and in the country’s politics, will be the first by a Pope.

Some Shi’ite militant groups have opposed the Pope’s visit, framing it as Western interference in Iraq’s affairs, but many Iraqis hope that it can help foster a fresh view of Iraq.

“It might not change much on the ground, but at least if the Pope visits, people will see our country in a different light, not just bombs and war,” said Ali Hassan, a 30-year-old Baghdad resident picking up relatives at the airport. 

Pope Francis hosts post-lockdown indoor general audience with over 1,000 people gathered at the Vatican for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic



The Pope is protected by armed guards & gun-mounted trucks on Iraq tour as he prays for peace in war-torn country
Source link The Pope is protected by armed guards & gun-mounted trucks on Iraq tour as he prays for peace in war-torn country

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