President Barham Salih invites Pope Francis to Iraq while at Vatican

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By Rudaw
Pope Francis (left) hosts Iraqi President Barham Salih at the Vatican on November 24, 2018. Photo: Salih Twitter
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Iraqi President Barham Salih met with the head of the Roman Catholic Church at the Vatican on Saturday.

“Iraq can bring together believers from all faiths to affirm values of peace, tolerance & confront extremism,” tweeted Salih after meeting Pope Francis.

Iraq’s head of state said he was “honored to have met His Holiness the Pope.”

“I invited him to visit Ur, where Abraham started his mission of peace and unity,” he said.The ruins of Ur are in Tel al-Muqayyar in Iraq’s southern Dhi Qar province.

“He cares deeply for Iraq and prays for our success,” added Salih, a Kurd from Sulaimani who is making his first visit to Europe as president.

“During the meeting, the President emphasized that what Christians, Yazidis, Muslims and other Iraqis have been subjected to genocide crimes committed by the terrorist organization of ISIS were not related to the tolerant teachings of the Islamic religion, referring to the history of peaceful coexistence among all sects in Iraq,” read a statement from Salih’s office.

“His Excellency demonstrated the importance of achieving a genuine national reconciliation that includes all and contributes directly to attaining peace. The President stressed on the need of concerted efforts of all to achieve this reconciliation.”

He also met with Italian PM Giuseppe Conte and President Sergio Mattarella in Rome on Thursday.

While there, Salih also spoke at the Mediterranean Dialogues explaining Iraq can be a catalyst for order in the Middle East.

The last census in Iraq was in 1987, when 1.5 million Christians were counted.

Prior to ISIS, local groups estimate the Christian population stood at 400,000-600,000. Roughly half have left Iraq since 2014, and around 130,000 sought shelter in the Kurdistan Region.

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in January.

Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, was elevated to cardinal in the Church in June in a bid to increase the number of cardinals in places where Christian populations are dwindling.

Sako was born in 1948 in Zakho, a city in northwest Iraq, which is now a part of the Kurdistan Region.