Pope Francis delivers impassioned plea for peace as historic Iraq visit gets underway

Pope Francis delivers impassioned plea for peace as historic Iraq visit gets underway
Short Url
Updated 06 March 2021

Pope Francis delivers impassioned plea for peace as historic Iraq visit gets underway

Pope Francis delivers impassioned plea for peace as historic Iraq visit gets underway
  • Pontiff remembers Christians massacred in 2010 church attack
  • He hailed Iraq as a “cradle of civilization,” despite its many problems

ROME/BAGHDAD: Pope Francis on Friday called for an end to extremism, violence and corruption as his historic visit to Iraq got underway.
He began the first-ever papal trip to the country by meeting government officials in Baghdad, before traveling to a church where Christians were massacred by militants in 2010.
He was greeted at Baghdad’s International Airport by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and treated to a display of traditional dancing.
He then met President Barham Salih at the Presidential Palace, where he delivered a strongly worded speech highlighting the problems that continued to blight the country.




Pope Francis speaks at 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. (AFP)

“May the clash of arms be silenced,”  he said. “Enough of violence, extremism, factions, intolerance. Iraq has suffered the disastrous effects of wars, the scourge of terrorism and sectarian conflicts often grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups.”
The pope, referring to the outside influences often blamed for destabilizing Iraq, said the international community must provide help “without imposing ideologies” and urged Iraqi officials to “combat the scourge of corruption, misuse of power and disregard for law.”




Pope Francis speaks at 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. (AFP)

His visit comes as Iraq attempts to claw its way to stability after years of sectarian conflict, the Daesh occupation, chronic corruption, and widespread anger at government officials for failing to provide basic services. Iraq’s Christian population has also dwindled, with many fleeing overseas to build new lives.

But the pope hailed Iraq as a “cradle of civilization,” despite its many problems, and believed that all the crises it faced could be overcome by building a society based on fraternity, solidarity and concord.
He said that Iraq, with its varied religions, culture and ethnicities, could show that diversity should lead to harmony within society rather than conflict.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)


He drew attention to the Yazidi sect, many of whom were murdered by Daesh in 2014, and called them “innocent victims of senseless and brutal atrocities, persecuted and killed for their religion, and whose very identity and survival was put at risk.”
He said room should be made for all those who wanted to build up Iraq in a way that included the participation of all political, social and religious groups.
The Catholic Church in Iraq, he added, wanted to cooperate constructively with other religions in serving the cause of peace.


He traveled across the city in an armored black BMWi750 rather than the popemobile normally used for foreign visits. The motorcade included dozens of police on motorcycles.
Iraq’s security situation was the greatest threat as to whether the visit would go ahead, along with the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. But concerns over Daesh sleeper cells and recent rocket attacks on US bases by Iran-backed militants failed to deter him.

At Our Lady of Salvation church, he paid tribute to the 58 people who were killed in an extremist attack in 2010, one of the deadliest targeting Christians.
“We are gathered in this Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, hallowed by the blood of our brothers and sisters who here paid the ultimate price of their fidelity to the Lord and his Church,” he said.
On Saturday the pope will meet Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf, and visit the birthplace of Prophet Abraham in Ur.

READ MORE

Go to Arab News' dedicated In Focus section on the Pope's visit to Iraq for coverage of the historic trip. Click here.

 


Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province
Updated 38 min 56 sec ago

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

TEHRAN: A 5.9-magnitude earthquake Sunday hit Iran's southwestern Bushehr province, which houses a nuclear power plant, injuring five people but causing no major damage, state media said.
The 10-kilometre (six mile) deep quake hit 27 kilometres northwest of the port city of Genaveh at 11:11 am local time (0641 GMT) and was felt in nearby provinces, Iran's seismological agency said.
State news agency IRNA reported that the quake and several aftershocks caused power blackouts and cut phone lines nearby but caused "no damage" at the Bushehr nuclear complex about 100 kilometres away.
"The minor damage to Genaveh's water, electricity, telecommunication and gas infrastructure has been repaired," the head of the province's crisis management told IRNA.
Iran sits astride the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity.
In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake in southeastern Iran levelled the ancient mud-brick city of Bam and killed at least 31,000 people.
Iran's deadliest quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1990 that killed 40,000 people in the north, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless.


Nearly 100 people injured after train derails in Egypt

Nearly 100 people injured after train derails in Egypt
Updated 24 min 23 sec ago

Nearly 100 people injured after train derails in Egypt

Nearly 100 people injured after train derails in Egypt
  • 58 ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to three hospitals in the province

CAIRO: Ninety-seven people have been injured after a train derailed in Egypt's Qalioubia province north of Cairo, the health ministry said in a statement.
58 ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to three hospitals in the province, it said.

 

Egypt’s health minister Hala Zayed is heading to Qalioubia province to check up on those injured in the incident. 
The train departed Cairo at 1:20 P.M. and was due to arrive in Mansoura at 5:00 P.M. 
At least 20 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured in March when two trains collided near Tahta in Sohag province.


Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect – media report

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect – media report
Updated 18 April 2021

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect – media report

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect – media report
  • National television has published a photo and identified the alleged saboteur as Reza Karimi
  • A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person

TEHRAN: Iran has asked Interpol to help arrest a suspect in a sabotage attack on its Natanz nuclear facility which it blames on Israel, a local newspaper reported Sunday.
National television has published a photo and identified the man as 43-year-old Reza Karimi, saying the intelligence ministry had established his role in last week’s “sabotage” at Natanz.
The broadcaster said the suspect had “fled the country before the incident” and that “legal procedures to arrest and return him to the country are currently underway.”
Neither state TV nor other media provided further details on the suspect. The intelligence ministry has not issued an official statement.
The ultraconservative Kayhan daily reported in its Sunday edition that “intelligence and judicial authorities” are engaged in the process.
It added that “after his identity was established, necessary measures were taken through Interpol to arrest and return” the suspect.
Kayhan did not specify what form of Interpol assistance had been requested.
As of Sunday noon, Interpol’s public “red notice” list online returned no results for Reza Karimi.
A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action, according to Interpol’s website.
A “small explosion” hit the Natanz plant’s electricity distribution system a week ago, according to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
The Iranian foreign ministry accused arch-foe Israel of an act of “nuclear terrorism” and vowed revenge.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement but public radio reports said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency, citing unnamed intelligence sources.
The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and Israeli intelligence officials, also said there had been “an Israeli role” in the attack.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh last week indirectly accused Israel of attempting to scuttle talks underway in Vienna aimed at reviving a landmark nuclear agreement.
The talks are focused on bringing the US back in to the accord after former president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, and to bring Iran back into compliance with key nuclear commitments it suspended in response to the sanctions.


Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26: parliament

Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26: parliament
Updated 18 April 2021

Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26: parliament

Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26: parliament

DAMASCUS: Syria is to hold a presidential election on May 26, the parliament speaker announced Sunday, the country's second in the shadow of civil war, seen as likely to keep President Bashar Al-Assad in power.
Syrians abroad will be "able to vote at embassies" on May 20, Hamouda Sabbagh said in a statement, adding that prospective candidates could hand in their applications from Monday.
Assad, who took power following the death of his father Hafez in 2000, has not yet officially announced that he will stand for re-election.
He won a previous election three years into Syria's devastating civil war in 2014, with 88 percent of the vote.
Under Syria's 2012 constitution, a president may only serve two seven-year terms -- with the exception of the president elected in the 2014 poll.
Candidates must have lived continuously in Syria for at least 10 years, meaning that opposition figures in exile are barred from standing.
Candidates must also have the backing of at least 35 members of the parliament, which is dominated by Assad's Baath party.
This year's vote comes after Russian-backed Syrian government forces re-seized the vital northern city of Aleppo and other opposition-held areas, placing Damascus in control of two-thirds of the country.
But the poll also comes amid a crushing economic crisis.
The decade-long civil war has left at least 388,000 people dead and half of the population displaced.


Cyprus meeting, Riyadh visit latest examples of regional coalitions coming together

Cyprus meeting, Riyadh visit latest examples of regional coalitions coming together
Updated 18 April 2021

Cyprus meeting, Riyadh visit latest examples of regional coalitions coming together

Cyprus meeting, Riyadh visit latest examples of regional coalitions coming together
  • Foreign ministers of Greece, Israel, Cyprus, UAE met in Paphos on Friday
  • ‘Greater Mediterranean region emerging based on new partnerships, initiatives,’ expert tells Arab News

ATHENS: Common interests are bringing together regional coalitions of like-minded countries in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean — favoring stability, combating extremism and respecting international law — in bilateral and multilateral formats.

The latest examples of this diplomatic activism are the meeting of the foreign ministers of Greece, Israel, Cyprus and the UAE that took place on Friday; and the forthcoming visit of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos to Saudi Arabia.

The four-way talks in the Cypriot city of Paphos marked the first time that the UAE had participated in one of the multilateral forums that have been created in the eastern Mediterranean since 2010.

In Riyadh, Dendias and Panagiotopoulos will sign a Status of Forces Agreement that will pave the way for the development of a Patriot-2 antimissile battery in Saudi Arabia in order to help the Kingdom in its fight against the Houthi militia in neighboring Yemen.

“The evolving web of regional cooperation is creating a new narrative, one that is cracking the glass ceiling of the prevailing, restrictive narrative of our neighborhood as a region of turmoil, conflict and crisis,” said Nikos Christodoulides, Cypriot foreign minister and host of the Paphos meeting.

The four-way talks will benefit from the recent normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE, and could offer an opportunity for the latter to join other regional efforts.

“A partnership that comprises both Israel and the UAE is very important for regional stability,” said Dendias. “We also welcome other regional initiatives undertaken with the aim of regional peace, such as the AlUla Accord, as well as the Saudi initiative that aims at bringing peace to the conflict in Yemen.”

Spyridon N. Litsas, professor of international relations at the University of Macedonia in Greece, and at the Rabdan Academy in Abu Dhabi, told Arab News: “The meeting of Greece, the UAE, Cyprus and Israel in Paphos signals two main facts. Firstly, the UAE and Israel seem able and willing to jointly contribute to the stabilization of the region. Secondly, smart diplomatic deterrence is taking a more definitive shape, and is oriented toward countering Turkish revisionism in the region.”

Ankara’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean, and its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, have raised regional concerns.

“Alliances are formed either to balance the threat of an aggressor, or to balance the power of a revisionist actor,” Litsas said.

“Greece, the UAE, Cyprus and Israel prove that alliances can also be formed on the basis of a smart approach toward Αnkara’s atavism. Turkey produces more revisionism than neighboring states can tolerate.”

The visit of Greece’s foreign and defense ministers to Riyadh has been long in the making, having been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Athens wants to enhance its defense cooperation with Saudi Arabia, as it has done with the UAE.

Saudi F-15 fighter aircraft were stationed in Greece’s Souda Bay airbase last summer, and the two countries have engaged in political consultations at the highest level.

Athens aims to advance its role in linking the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf. “A Greater Mediterranean region is emerging based on new partnerships and initiatives linking the Gulf with Mediterranean states,” Aristotle Tziampiris, professor of international relations at the University of Piraeus, told Arab News.

“Greece is in the middle of this important development that’s based on common interests and viewpoints, which include viewing Turkey as an increasingly unpredictable actor and Iran as a potentially serious, even existential threat.”

In February, “Athens established the Philia (Friendship) Forum, comprising Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” said Tziampiris.

“Greece is coming, without any doubt, closer to several Gulf countries aiming to contribute to regional stability.”