Pope Francis departs Iraq after historic trip

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Baghdad

Pope Francis concluded on Monday the first-ever papal trip to Iraq, which went off without a hitch despite security worries and a second wave of coronavirus cases in the country.

The 84-year-old pontiff covered more than 1,400 kilometres (900 miles) inside the country, bringing encouragement to its diminished Christian population and reaching out to the Shiite Muslim majority through a meeting with top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Pope Francis’ historic trip to war-scarred Iraq went off without a hitch — an image boost Baghdad hopes will help revive international engagement, foreign investment and even tourism.

But while the government hailed the pontiff’s successful visit as a “turning point”, country experts cautioned that the threats of violence and political turmoil have not vanished overnight.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s four-day visit was a bold trip by any measure: Iraq has long been a byword for conflict, and many countries actively discourage their citizens from visiting.

Recent years have seen major battles to oust the Islamic State group, rockets attacks against the US-led coalition, and deadly street clashes between protesters and security forces..—AFP