IS Attack Kills 13 Iraqi Police – Security, Medics

Iraqi Flag

 

Thirteen Iraqi policemen were killed in an Islamic State group attack against a checkpoint in the country’s north early Sunday, security and medical sources said.

The attack, in the region of Al-Rashad around 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Kirkuk city, took place just after midnight, a senior Iraqi police officer told AFP.

“Members of the Islamic State organisation targeted a federal police checkpoint,” said the officer, who did not want to be named.

“Thirteen were killed and three wounded” among the security forces, the officer added.

A medical source based in Kirkuk confirmed the toll.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

IS seized swathes of Iraq in a lightning offensive in 2014, before being beaten back by a counter-insurgency campaign supported by a US-led military coalition.

The Iraqi government declared the Sunni extremists defeated in late 2017, but they retain sleeper cells which continue to hit security forces with asymmetric attacks.

Jihadist cells regularly target the Iraqi army and police in northern Iraq, but this attack was one of the most deadly this year.

READ ALSO:Biden Announces ‘New Phase’ In Iraq Relations, End Of ‘Combat Operations’ 

A July 19 bombing claimed by IS officially killed 30 people in the Al-Woheilat market in Sadr City, a Shiite suburb of Baghdad.

International coalition troops in Iraq currently number around 3,500, of which 2,500 are US troops.

But Washington has been drawing down its military presence amid attacks on facilities it uses by Iran-aligned armed groups and has said that from next year the role of US troops will be limited to training and advising their Iraqi counterparts.

Last Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Iraqi Kurdistan and expressed concern about an IS “resurgence” in both Iraq and Syria.

He also said that French soldiers deployed in Iraq as part of the international coalition will remain in the country “no matter what choices the Americans make”.

AFP

Biden Announces ‘New Phase’ In Iraq Relations, End Of ‘Combat Operations’

File photo: US President Joe Biden speaks on the American Jobs Plan, following a tour of Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia on May 3, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

President Joe Biden opened talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi on Monday saying relations were in a “new phase” that would include the end of US combat operations in the country.

With Kadhemi at his side in the White House, Biden said that the US is “committed to our security cooperation” and will “to continue to train, to assist, to help, to deal with ISIS (Islamic State) as it arises.”

“But we’re not going to be, at the end of the year, in a combat mission,” he said.

Biden also stressed US support for elections in October in Iraq, saying Washington is working closely with Baghdad, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations to ensure the elections are fair.

Kadhemi said the US and Iraq have a “strategic partnership.”

“America, they help Iraq. Together we fight, fight and defeat ISIS,” he said.

“Today, our relation is stronger than ever — our partnership in the economy, the environment, health, education, culture and more.”

Biden is currently also overseeing the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, with the Taliban on the offensive amid fears they could even topple the Kabul government.

Political support 

Biden’s comments confirmed his readinesses to further limit US involvement in Iraq, but without removing the remaining 2,500 troops in the country, 18 years after the United States invaded to remove strongman Saddam Hussein.

The move could lend political support to Kadhemi, in power for little over a year and under pressure from Iran-allied political factions to push US troops from his country.

The two leaders’ meeting came after weeks of preparations which included discussions on support for fighting Covid-19, aiding the Iraqi private sector and cooperation on climate change.

Ahead of the meeting a senior US official who would not be identified praised Kadhemi for being pragmatic and “a problem solver rather than someone who tries to use problems for his own political interests.”

The main concern from Washington is to lend enough support to Iraqi security forces to keep up the fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group — while also keeping a damper on Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Since last year the principal role of the remaining US troops in Iraq has been to train, advise and support their Iraqi counterparts to battle Islamic State.

But Biden’s statement made clear that their involvement in actual fighting Islamic State would end.

“Iraq has requested, and we very much agree, that they need continued training, support with logistics, intelligence, advisory capacity building — all of which will continue,” the US official said.

READ ALSOFans Urged To Stay Away From Olympic Marathon Over COVID-19 Fears

October elections 

File photo: US President Joe Biden holds a press conference after the US-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by PETER KLAUNZER / POOL / AFP)

 

“We support strengthening Iraq’s democracy and we’re anxious to make sure the election goes forward in October,” he said.

In the vote Kadhemi is hoping to regain ground with powerful pro-Iran political factions, which are overtly hostile to the US presence.

He was expected to persuade Washington to ease some sanctions relating to Iran, to help Iraq honor crucial transactions with its neighbor and tackle power shortages.

Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago’s Pearson Institute, said the meeting that it could be cosmetically “shaped” to help the Iraqi premier alleviate domestic pressures.

“But the reality on the ground will reflect the status quo and an enduring US presence.” said Mardini.

Remaining, however, has its risks.

“If there is no significant announcement on the withdrawal of troops, I fear that the pro-Iran groups may… increase attacks on the US forces,” Iraqi researcher Sajad Jiyad told AFP.

The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee, a group of militia factions, threatened to continue the attacks unless the United States withdraws all its forces and ends the “occupation.”

AFP

Iraq Market Blast Kills At Least 21, Injures 33


Iraqis inspect the site of the explosion in a popular market in the mostly Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City, east of Baghdad, on July 19, 2021. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

At least 21 people were killed and 33 wounded Monday in a bomb blast in a busy market in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, a medical source told AFP.

The blast in the densely populated majority-Shiite suburb of Sadr City came as shoppers crowded the market buying food ahead of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha.

Video footage shared on social media after the blast showed bloodied victims and people screaming in terror.

An interior ministry source said four women and four children were among those killed.

“A terror attack using a locally-made IED (improvised explosive device) in Woheilat Market in Sadr City, in east Baghdad, left several victims dead and others injured,” Iraq’s interior ministry said in a statement.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Baghdad Operations Command, a joint military and interior ministry security body, said it had launched an investigation into the blast.

In January, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a rare twin suicide bombing that killed 32 people — also at a crowded market in Baghdad.

READ ALSOSudan Inflation Soars Above 400% As Discontent Grows


Iraqis inspect the site of the explosion in a popular market in the mostly Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City, east of Baghdad, on July 19, 2021.  AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

That blast was the city’s deadliest attack in three years.

Such violence was commonplace in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, and later on as IS swept across much of Iraq and also targeted the capital.

But after years of deadly violence, militant attacks have become relatively rare in the capital Baghdad.

Iraq declared IS defeated at the end of 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign.

Yet the group’s sleeper cells have continued to operate in desert and mountain areas, typically targeting security forces or state infrastructure with low casualty attacks.

The US-led coalition that had been supporting Iraq’s campaign against IS has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing the increased capabilities of Iraqi forces.

The United States, which provides the bulk of the force, has 2,500 troops left in Iraq — down from 5,200 a year ago.

They are mainly in charge of training, providing drone surveillance and carrying out air strikes while Iraqi security forces handle security in urban areas.

Sadr City, where Monday’s bomb blast took place, is named after revered Shiite cleric Mohammed al-Sadr.

His son, Moqtada Sadr — a firebrand cleric with millions of followers and in command of paramilitary groups — is a crucial player in Iraqi politics who has often protested against the influence of both the United States and Iran.

The boycott by Sadr of upcoming elections slated for October is a blow to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who had called the early vote in response to demands by pro-democracy activists.

AFP

64 Dead As Fire Guts Iraq COVID-19 Ward

A man looks at the ravaged coronavirus isolation ward of Al-Hussein hospital after a massive fire overnight, in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, on July 13, 2021.
Asaad NIAZI / AFP

 

Grief and anger gripped the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on Tuesday after a fire swept through a Covid isolation unit killing 64 people and wounding dozens more.

The devastating Monday evening blaze in the city’s Al-Hussein Hospital, which medics said was fuelled by the explosion of oxygen canisters, was the second such fire in Iraq in three months.

“Sixty-four (bodies) were retrieved and 39 identified and handed over to their families,” a source at the provincial forensic science department told AFP.

“Medical teams and relatives of victims are finding it difficult to identify the rest of the corpses,” the source said, adding that the death toll might rise with more bodies feared buried under the rubble.

A hundred people were also wounded in the blaze.

On Tuesday, as the first of the funerals were held, angry protesters gathered to vent their anger at provincial authorities they hold responsible for the deaths, an AFP correspondent said.

In Al-Dawaya, east of Nasiriyah, a joint funeral was held for six members of one family who died in the inferno.

In Al-Nasr, north of the city, a joint funeral was held with two brothers and two sisters, who were among the dead.

Abbas Agil, a pensioner who attended the funeral in Al-Nasr, said the shouts of grieving mourners were filled with rage at provincial officials they accuse of corruption and neglect.

 

People search the rubble at the ravaged coronavirus isolation ward of Al-Hussein hospital after a massive fire overnight, in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, on July 13, 2021.
Asaad NIAZI / AFP

 

‘Confront the corrupt’

Hundreds of young protesters shut down private hospitals in Nasiriyah to pressure authorities to open the doors of a newly-built public hospital in the southern city.

Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Khademi inaugurated the brand new hospital, constructed by a Turkish firm. But the hospital and its more than 400 beds have yet to be opened to patients.

Photos shared on social media showed graffiti spray-painted on the entrance of a private hospital with the words: “Closed – on the orders of the people”.

In late 2019, at the height of the countrywide anti-government protests, Nasiriyah was referred to as the heart of the uprising.

“The state must take the necessary measures… to confront the corrupt,” one young protester told AFP.

He said those responsible must be held “accountable… in transparent investigations that show people that it (the state) is serious about putting an end to these tragedies.”

In a Tuesday tweet, Iraqi President Barham Salih blamed the “catastrophe” at Al-Hussein Hospital on “persistent corruption and mismanagement that undervalues the lives of Iraqis”.

Salih recalled an April fire at a Baghdad Covid-19 hospital that killed 82 people and injured 110. It too was sparked by the explosion of badly stored oxygen cylinders.

The April fire triggered widespread anger, resulting in the suspension and subsequent resignation of then health minister Hassan al-Tamimi.

Between January and March alone, the interior ministry recorded 7,000 fires.

On Monday, a minor fire broke out at the health ministry’s headquarters in Baghdad, but it was quickly contained without any casualties.

Iraq — whose oil-dependent economy is still recovering from decades of war and international sanctions — has recorded more than 1.4 million coronavirus cases and more than 17,000 deaths.

Much of the country’s health infrastructure is dilapidated and investment in public services has been hamstrung by endemic corruption.

-AFP

Pope Thanks Iraqis For Visit, Saying They Deserve Peace

Pope Francis gestures aboard the aeroplane heading to Iraq on March 5, 2021. Pope Francis landed in war-battered Iraq on the first-ever papal visit, defying security fears and the pandemic to comfort one of the world’s oldest and most persecuted Christian communities. Andrew Medichini / POOL / AFP

 

Pope Francis thanked the people of Iraq on Wednesday for allowing him to make his historic trip to the country, saying Iraqis deserve to live in peace.

In his weekly audience, the 84-year-old pope reflected on the packed three-day programme that saw him travel throughout Iraq last weekend, offering encouragement to persecuted Christians and extending a hand to Shiite Muslims.

“After this visit, my soul is filled with gratitude — gratitude to God and to all those who made it possible,” he said, citing political and religious leaders.

These include top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, “with whom I had an unforgettable meeting”.

He said he heard first-hand of “wounds still open” from the destruction wrought on Iraq’s Christian communities, which have been decimated after decades of conflict.

“And at the same time, I saw around me the joy of welcoming Christ’s message,” he said.

“The Iraqi people have the right to live in peace. They have the right to rediscover the dignity that belongs to them.”

He condemned the “monster” of war, adding: “I ask myself, who sells arms to terrorists? Today, who sells them to terrorists?

“They are waging wars in other places as well, in Africa, and it’s a question that I want an answer to.”

But he noted that Iraqis “are trying hard to rebuild. The Muslims are inviting the Christians to return and together they are restoring churches and mosques. Fraternity is there”.

Pope Francis Prays For ‘Victims Of War’ In Iraq’s Mosul

 

Pope Francis prayed Sunday for “victims of war” outside a centuries-old church in Iraq’s Mosul, where the Islamic State group ravaged one of the world’s oldest Christian communities until the jihadists’ defeat three years ago.

With the crumbling stone walls of the Al-Tahera (Immaculate Conception) Church behind him, Pope Francis made a plea for Christians in Iraq and the Middle East to stay in their homelands.

The 84-year-old pontiff said the “tragic” exodus of Christians from war-scarred Iraq and the wider region “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind”.

The IS onslaught forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province to flee. Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk to fewer than 400,000 from around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion of 2003.

The faithful had gathered on Sunday in the courtyard of the Al-Tahera Church, whose roof collapsed during fighting against IS in 2017.

It is one of the oldest of at least 14 churches in Nineveh province that were destroyed by IS.

Boutros Chito, a Catholic priest in Mosul, said the pope’s visit could change the way people think about his city, the ancient centre of which still lies in ruins.

“Pope Francis will announce to the whole world that we are the people of peace, a civilisation of love,” Chito told AFP.

The heaviest deployment of security forces yet has been mobilised to protect Francis on what is perhaps the riskiest day of his historic trip to Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS sleeper cells.

‘Boost our morale’

Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s dwindling Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.

On Saturday, the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace”.

“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service in the ancient site of Ur later that morning.

Watching from afar as IS swept across Nineveh in 2014, Pope Francis said at the time he was ready to come and meet the displaced and other victims of war in a show of solidarity.

Seven years later, he is visiting both Mosul and Qaraqosh, one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns whose residents still speak a dialect of Syriac, the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

It, too, was largely destroyed when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.

“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said Father George Jahoula in Qaraqosh.

To honour the pope, local artisans wove a two-metre (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac.

It was given to Francis on his first day in Iraq on Friday.

Holy mass in stadium

Francis landed early on Sunday at the airport in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, which was targeted just a few weeks ago by a volley of rockets that killed two people.

He held a brief meeting with regional president Nechirvan Barzani and his cousin, the prime minister Masrour Barzani.

Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed Iraq, taking planes, helicopters and armoured convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) in-country.

The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, with Iraq gripped by a second wave bringing around 5,000 new cases per day.

Authorities have imposed a nationwide lockdown — ostensibly to keep cases down but also to help control movements of crowds during the pope’s high-profile visit.

While Francis has been vaccinated, Iraq has only just begun a modest inoculation campaign and there are fears that the crowds gathering to see him could lead to super-spreader events.

The biggest event yet will be on Sunday afternoon, when several thousand people will gather at Arbil’s Franso Hariri stadium for the Pope’s last mass in Iraq.

Arbil has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.

Christian Exodus Does ‘Incalculable Harm’ To Mideast, Says Pope Francis

Pope Francis, accompanied by bodyguards, leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad at the start of the first ever papal visit to Iraq on March 5, 2021. In an address to the faithful in Baghdad, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to his fellow clergy for supporting Iraq's Christians, whose population has dwindled due to conflict. Ayman HENNA / AFP
Pope Francis, accompanied by bodyguards, leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad at the start of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq on March 5, 2021. Ayman HENNA / AFP

 

Pope Francis prayed on Sunday for “victims of war” outside a centuries-old church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, heavily damaged by the Islamic State group ravaged one of the world’s oldest Christian communities until the jihadists’ defeat three years ago.

The 84-year-old said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind.”

With the crumbling stone walls of the Al-Tahera (Immaculate Conception) Church behind him, Pope Francis made a plea for Christians in Iraq and the Middle East to stay in their homelands.

The pontiff said the “tragic” exodus of Christians from war-scarred Iraq and the wider region “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind”.

The IS onslaught forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province to flee. Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk to fewer than 400,000 from around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion of 2003.

The faithful had gathered on Sunday in the courtyard of the Al-Tahera Church, whose roof collapsed during fighting against IS in 2017.

It is one of the oldest of at least 14 churches in Nineveh province that were destroyed by IS.

Boutros Chito, a Catholic priest in Mosul, said the pope’s visit could change the way people think about his city, the ancient centre of which still lies in ruins.

“Pope Francis will announce to the whole world that we are the people of peace, a civilisation of love,” Chito told AFP.

The heaviest deployment of security forces yet has been mobilised to protect Francis on what is perhaps the riskiest day of his historic trip to Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS sleeper cells.

‘Boost our morale’

Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s dwindling Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.

On Saturday, the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace”.

“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service in the ancient site of Ur later that morning.

Watching from afar as IS swept across Nineveh in 2014, Pope Francis said at the time he was ready to come and meet the displaced and other victims of war in a show of solidarity.

Seven years later, he is visiting both Mosul and Qaraqosh, one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns whose residents still speak a dialect of Syriac, the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

It, too, was largely destroyed when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.

“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said Father George Jahoula in Qaraqosh.

To honour the pope, local artisans wove a two-metre (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac.

It was given to Francis on his first day in Iraq on Friday.

Holy mass in stadium

Francis landed early on Sunday at the airport in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, which was targeted just a few weeks ago by a volley of rockets that killed two people.

He held a brief meeting with regional president Nechirvan Barzani and his cousin, the prime minister Masrour Barzani.

Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed Iraq, taking planes, helicopters and armoured convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) in-country.

The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, with Iraq gripped by a second wave bringing around 5,000 new cases per day.

Authorities have imposed a nationwide lockdown — ostensibly to keep cases down but also to help control movements of crowds during the pope’s high-profile visit.

While Francis has been vaccinated, Iraq has only just begun a modest inoculation campaign and there are fears that the crowds gathering to see him could lead to super-spreader events.

The biggest event yet will be on Sunday afternoon, when several thousand people will gather at Arbil’s Franso Hariri stadium for the Pope’s last mass in Iraq.

Arbil has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.

AFP

Pope Francis Meets Top Iraq Shiite Cleric Grand Ayatollah Sistani

A handout picture provided by Vatican News shows Pope Francis meeting top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the Irqi shine city of Najaf,on March 6, 2021.
STRINGER / VATICAN NEWS / AFP

 

Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top religious authority for most Shiite Muslims, hosted the head of the world’s Catholics, Pope Francis, on Saturday in the shrine city of Najaf.

Sistani, 90, almost never holds meetings but made an exception for 84-year-old Francis, who is making the first-ever papal trip to Iraq to encourage dwindling Christians and extend his hand to Shiite Muslims.

One Militant Killed In US Bombing In Iraq – Pentagon

Iraqi Flag

 

The US Defense Department said Monday that one member of a pro-Iran militia was killed and two were injured in last week’s bombing of a border station inside Syria.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby made no mention of possible civilian casualties, but said than nine buildings were destroyed in the pinpoint strike on the outpost near Albu Kamal.

The US military said was used by Iran-supported Iraqi armed groups.

“We believe right now there was likely one militia member killed and two militia members wounded,” Kirby said.

“We’ll continue to assess … and if that changes we will certainly let you know,” he added.

Shortly after the early Friday attack, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 22 fighters from Iraq’s state-sponsored Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force were killed.

READ ALSO: Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Hit With Two New Criminal Charges

The strike was in retaliation for three recent missile attacks on installations used by US and coalition forces in Iraq.

Those were believed launched by Iran-backed militias that operate under the umbrella of Hashed al-Shaabi.

It was the first military strike by the administration of Joe Biden in the region and came as Biden seeks to resume negotiations with Tehran over limiting its nuclear program.

Iraqi map.

 

Biden was “sending an unambiguous message that he’s going to act to protect Americans,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said they were confident the target was being used by “the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes” in Iraq against US-used facilities.

The administration has stressed that the action was meant as a warning and to avoid further escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington.

“This was really designed to do two things: to remove that compound from their utilization of it as an entry control point from Syria into Iraq,” Kirby said.

“And, two, to send a very strong signal that we’re not going to tolerate attacks on our people and our Iraqi partners.”

AFP

Pope Francis Plans Historic Iraq Trip In March

Pope Francis delivers a homily during Palm Sunday mass behind closed doors at St. Peter’s Basilica mass on April 5, 2020 in The Vatican, during the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Alberto PIZZOLI / POOL / AFP.

 

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

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

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

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

There were more than one million Christians in 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 in 2014.

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

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

He said last year that Iraq was on his 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 on the part of all elements of society, including the religious, and not fall back into hostilities sparked by the simmering conflicts of the regional powers.”.

READ ALSO: UNICEF Seeks $2.5bn For Mideast Children As COVID-19 Deepens Poverty

“The pope’s visit will come as the realisation of a dream of his 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 peace to Iraq and the whole region.”

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

AFP

US Extends Iraq Sanctions Waiver Until Before Biden Inauguration

US President-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the press at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP
US President-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the press at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP

 

Washington has granted Iraq a shortened 45-day sanctions waiver to import Iranian gas that will expire days before US President Donald Trump’s term ends, an Iraqi official said Saturday.

Baghdad buys gas and electricity from its neighbour Tehran to supply about a third of its power sector, worn down by years of conflict and poor maintenance.

The US blacklisted Iran’s energy industry in late 2018 but granted Baghdad a series of temporary waivers, hoping Iraq would wean itself off Iranian energy by partnering with US firms.

The lengths of the exemptions have become a key tool in US policy towards Iraq, demonstrating the level of satisfaction or frustration with Baghdad.

In May, Washington granted Iraq a four-month extension as a gesture of goodwill towards Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who had just formed a cabinet seen as US-friendly.

But when it renewed the waiver in late September, the Trump administration gave Iraq just 60 days.

This time, it went even shorter: 45 days, a top Iraqi official told AFP, expiring around a week before Trump is set to hand over the White House to President-elect Joe Biden.

“They (the Trump administration) wanted the last opportunity to have a say,” the official said.

The shorter waiver comes amid concern by Iraqi and Western officials that Trump could use his final days in office to strike at Iran and its allies in Iraq.

The State Department is drawing up plans for a possible closure of the American embassy in Baghdad, which has been targeted by dozens of rocket attacks in the last year.

And two Iraqi officials have said they expect a “bucket list of sanctions” against Iranian interests in Iraq ahead of the White House handover.

UN Experts Seek End To Mass Executions In Iraq

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on September 5, 2018, Palestinian school children raise the victory gesture over a UN flag during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school. (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP)

 

UN human rights experts on Friday voiced alarm at reports that a further 50 terror convicts were facing execution in Iraq on Monday, as they urged Baghdad to halt all “mass executions”.

Some 4,000 prisoners, most of them charged with terror-related offences, are reportedly on death row in Iraq, said a trio of experts who do not speak for the United Nations but report their findings to it.

Hundreds of deaths are imminent after the signing of execution orders, according to the UN special rapporteurs Nils Melzer (torture and other cruel punishment), Fionnuala Ni Aolain (protecting human rights while countering terrorism) and Agnes Callamard (extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions).

Iraq executed 21 men convicted of “terrorism” last Monday at the notorious Nasiriyah prison in the country’s south, medical and police sources said.

They had all been convicted under a 2005 anti-terrorism law, which carries the death penalty.

Since declaring the Islamic State group defeated in late 2017, Iraq has condemned hundreds of its own citizens to death for membership of the jihadist faction.

The UN experts said in a joint statement that they had “serious concerns about the conduct of the trials and the extraction of confessions under torture”.

“We strongly urge the Iraqi government to respect its international legal obligations and to immediately halt further plans to execute prisoners,” said the special rapporteurs.

“When carried out on a widespread and systematic basis, arbitrary executions may well amount to crimes against humanity and may entail universal criminal responsibility for any official involved in such acts.”

 

AFP