Sunday, February 28, 2021

Iraq and the Pope

Violence continues in Iraq. Suleiman al-Qabisi (ANADOLU AGENCY) reports, "Five security forces were killed in a car-bomb explosion in the western Anbar province on Sunday, according to a local official.  A booby-trapped car exploded as a joint force from the Iraqi army and tribal fighters were carrying out a search operation in al-Madham, 80 km west of Haditha town, mayor Mabrouk Hameed told Anadolu Agency."

As the violence continues, Pope Francis prepares to make his trip to Iraq, scheduled for March 3rd through 5th.  The visit comes, as Ines San Martin (CRUZ) points out, while one person is dropping out of the trip, "Slovenian Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, the papal ambassador in Iraq, who was supposed to accompany Pope Francis during his March 5-8 visit to the land of the two rivers, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday and is now in isolation."  The worldwide pandemic also continues to see an increase in Iraq.  XINHUA observes, "The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported 3,248 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total nationwide number to 695,489.  The new cases included 940 in the capital Baghdad, 662 in Basra, 393 in Najaf, 179 in Wasit, and 175 in Qadisiyah, the ministry said in a statement."

The visit comes as some sound alarms.  Nicole Winfield and Samya Kullab (AP) report:

Infectious disease experts are expressing concern about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Iraq, given a sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, a fragile health care system and the unavoidable likelihood that Iraqis will crowd to see him.

No one wants to tell Francis to call it off, and the Iraqi government has every interest in showing off its relative stability by welcoming the first pope to the birthplace of Abraham. The March 5-8 trip is expected to provide a sorely-needed spiritual boost to Iraq’s beleaguered Christians while furthering the Vatican’s bridge-building efforts with the Muslim world. 

But from a purely epidemiological standpoint, as well as the public health message it sends, a papal trip to Iraq amid a global pandemic is not advisable, health experts say.

The visit has other reasons and meanings that go beyond epidemiological concerns.  AP seems unable to find that point.  Maya Gebeily (AFP) reports:

Persecution has already slashed the country's Christian community -- one of the world's oldest -- from 1.5 million in 2003 to just 400,000 today.

The 84-year-old pontiff plans to voice solidarity with them and the rest of Iraq's 40 million people during an intense week of visits nationwide.

From central Baghdad to the Shiite shrine city of Najaf, welcome banners featuring his image and Arabic title "Baba al-Vatican" already dot the streets.

From Ur, the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham in the southern desert, to ravaged Christian towns in the north, roads are being paved and churches rehabilitated in remote areas that have never seen such a high-profile visitor.

Pope Francis has an ambitious agenda for the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, including some of the country's most treasured sites. l
@AFP #PolitikoGlobal

The pope’s upcoming visit to Iraq is a “precious gift” not only for the Christians who live there, but for all those who after years of war want a return to peace and coexistence between religions, a priest who worked for eight years in the diocese of Mosul told Arab News.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Pope Francis is coming … to invite us to all be instruments of peace,” said Fr. Jalal Jako.

“Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long.”

Jako, currently in Italy, will return to Iraq for the pope’s visit, which will begin on March 5.

In other news, Will Bunch (PHILADELPHIA INQURIER) weighs in on Joe Biden's bombing of Syria:

But I don’t understand what gives Biden — like his predecessors Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush — either the legal or moral authority to unilaterally launch a military attack in Syria, when there’s been no declaration of war and the only authorization of military force is nearly 20 years old in response to the 9/11 attacks. (Neither, by the way, do some Democratic Biden allies in Congress.) More importantly, I don’t understand why Biden doesn’t seem to have a plan to end that “forever war” that dates to 2001, or the never-ending presence of U.S. troops in places like Iraq since 2003, when they toppled Saddam Hussein but never left, for ever-changing and increasingly muddled reasons. The national conversation shouldn’t be about what Biden needs to do to protect our troops in Iraq but — in a world that increasingly looks nothing like 2003 — why in God’s name are they still over there?

The following sites updated: