Press Trust of india

Pope Francis arrives in first visit to Iraq

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Baghdad: Pope Francis has arrived in Iraq on a visit to rally the country’s dwindling Christian community after decades of war.

The pontiff’s landmark visit has been months in the making and is the first papal visit to Iraq, one that eluded his predecessors.

He brings a message of peace and coexistence to comfort the country’s deep-rooted Christian minority, many of whom fled the country in the successive conflicts that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

His trip will begin in Baghdad, where he is due to deliver speeches and celebrate Mass in the capital’s churches, and cover the holy city of Najaf, the plains of Ur in Nassiryah province, as well as Mosul and Irbil in the north.

The Alitalia flight, with both Vatican and Iraqi flags, carrying the pope and his delegation landed just before 2 p.m. (1100GMT). A red carpet was rolled out on the tarmac in Baghdad’s international airport.

Hundreds of people gathered along the airport road with hopes of catching a glimpse of the pope’s convoy.

Iraq was estimated to have nearly 1.5 million Christians prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. Now, church officials estimate only a few hundred thousand, or even fewer, remain with Iraq’s borders. (AP)

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