Pope Francis plans historic Iraq trip in March

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Pope Francis

Pope Francis make a historic visit to Iraq March, Vatican said , first ever by a pontiff and which include a trip to Mosul.

83-year-old has long spoken of desire to visit Middle Eastern country, although Vatican said the programme would “take into consideration the evolution of the worldwide health emergency”.

Francis be first head of Roman Catholic Church to visit Iraq, where number of Christians has dropped dramatically over the past two decades.

“He will visit Baghdad, the plain of Ur… the of Erbil, as well as Mosul and Qaraqosh the plain of Nineveh,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said a statement, during a trip planned from March 5 to 8, 2021.

There were more than Christians Iraq but just a few hundred thousand are left following sectarian warfare after the 2003 US-led invasion and the Islamic State group’s sweep through a third of the country 2014.

The pope’s visit to Mosul will be particularly significant, given that it a former stronghold of the Islamic State group.

Francis forced to cancel all foreign trips in June after it became clear that , which hit in early March, would make travel for the elderly pontiff too dangerous.

He said last year that Iraq list for 2020 trips.

At the time he said he hoped Iraq could “face the future through the peaceful and shared pursuit of the common good the part of all elements of , including the religious, and not fall back into hostilities sparked by the simmering conflicts of the regional powers.”.

“The pope’s visit will come as the realisation of a dream of predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II,” the Vatican’s news portal said.

“The Polish pope had planned to travel to Iraq at the end of 1999, but was prevented by Saddam Hussein,” it added.

The Iraqi government welcomed news of Francis’ visit, with the foreign ministry saying: “It symbolises a message of to Iraq and the whole region.”

Barham Saleh officially invited the pope to visit Iraq in July 2019, hoping it would help the country “heal” after years of strife.