Gulf News

Pope says he must go to Iraq as 10 rockets slam US base

- VATICAN CITY/BAGHDAD

Pope Francis said yesterday he is going to Iraq, where his predecesso­r John Paul was not allowed to go in 2000, because “the people cannot be let down for a second time.” Speaking at the end of his general audience, Francis, who is due to start the risky trip in Baghdad tomorrow, asked for prayers so that the visit “can take place in the best possible way and bring about the desired fruits”. He made no mention of the deteriorat­ing security situation in Iraq, where earlier on Wednesday at least 10 rockets landed on an air base that hosts United States, coalition and Iraqi forces. Pope John Paul had to cancel a planned trip in 2000 after a breakdown in talks with the government of then leader Saddam Hussain.

“For some time I have wanted to meet that people who suffered so much, and meet that martyred Church,” Francis said.

Iraq’s minority Christian community has been devastated by wars and repression by Daesh insurgents. Francis will visit the former Daesh stronghold of Mosul, where churches still bear the signs of conflict. “The people of Iraq are waiting for us. They were waiting for St. Pope John Paul II, who was not allowed to go. The people cannot be let down for a second time. Let us pray that this trip can be carried out well,” he said. “In the land of Abraham, together with other religious leaders, we also will take another step forward in fraternity among believers,” Francis said.

His comments came as at least 10 rockets slammed into a military base in western Iraq hosting US-led coalition troops yesterday, leaving one civilian contractor dead.

The attack on the sprawling Ain Al Assad base in Iraq’s western desert comes after several weeks of escalating US-Iran tensions on Iraqi soil. Coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Marotto confirmed that 10 rockets hit the base at 7.20am (0420 GMT) while Iraqi security forces said they had found the platform from which 10 “Grad-type rockets” hit the Ain A Assad base. Western security sources said the rockets were Iranian-made Arash models, which are 122mm artillery rockets and heavier than those seen in similar attacks. “One civilian contractor died of a heart attack during the attack,” a high-level security source said.

 ?? AFP ?? ■ Pope Francis said yesterday he would go ahead with his historic visit to Iraq, despite a rocket attack on a US base.
AFP ■ Pope Francis said yesterday he would go ahead with his historic visit to Iraq, despite a rocket attack on a US base.

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