0934 GMT April 10, 2021
“May the clash of arms be silenced ... may there be an end to acts of violence and extremism,” he said, addressing Iraqi President Barham Salih, politicians and diplomats at the presidential palace, according to Reuters.
Francis arrived at Baghdad airport under tight security, after telling reporters on his plane that he felt duty-bound to make the “emblematic” trip because the country “has been martyred for so many years”.
Hundreds of people gathered in small clusters to see him being driven into Baghdad in bulletproof BMW, a departure for a pope who normally insists on using small, normal cars.
As Francis and the president walked together, the 84-year-old pope limped noticeably, indicating that his sciatica may have flared up again. The condition forced him to cancel several events earlier this year.
In his speech at the palace, Francis criticized factional and foreign interests that have destabilized Iraq and the wider region and hit ordinary people the hardest.
“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,” Francis said.
Iraq’s security has improved since the defeat of the Daesh terrorist group in 2017, but the country continues to be a theatre for global and regional score-settling.
The US invasion of 2003, after years of international sanctions and a devastating war with Iran instigated by former leader Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, plunged Iraq into sectarian conflict and chronic mismanagement that has plagued it since.