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Did the pope’s Iraq visit make a difference?

  • 25 March 2021
On 20 March 2003, the United States military led an invasion of Iraq to achieve regime change and end the alleged weapons of mass destruction program of President Saddam Hussein. Regime change was achieved, but no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Some legacies of the invasion have been war, terrorism, extreme violence, massive economic and infrastructure destruction and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced internally or fleeing overseas for protection.

Iraqi people have lived with war and terrorism for several decades. Iraqis complain to me about their politicians, saying things like: ‘they are corrupt’, ‘they are controlled by Iran’, ‘they are too close to the West. One Iraqi told me, ‘the Iraqi government is not working for the future of Iraqis, there is no plan for the future. They are just interested in what they can do in the moment.’ Partly this is due to the high security risks, and also due to corruption.

I was interested in the Iraqi reactions to the visit to Iraq by Pope Francis in early March and whether the visit had positive consequences for Iraqis. Pope Francis is the first Pope to ever visit Iraq. A planned visit by Pope John Paul II in 1999 was not permitted by Saddam Hussain. Although Pope Francis only spent three days in Iraq, his visit received much attention and support from the Iraqi Government and was of major interest to Iraqis both in Iraq and here in Australia. I spoke with several Iraqis in Australia in order to hear their thoughts on this historic visit.

An older Iraqi man I know, Youhanna, retired in Australia but followed the news of the pope’s visit closely. ‘This was a good trip by the pope,’ he says. ‘He brings hope to the Christians in Iraq, and to everyone in Iraq who wants peace’. We spoke about the papal visit and Iraqi politics, and the sadly diminishing Christian communities in Iraq. Another younger Iraqi Christian told me he fully expected the visit to be cancelled for security reasons. He said the pope’s decision to visit Iraq was ‘brave’.

Christianity has been in Iraq since the first or second century AD. Around the time of the US-led invasion in 2003, there were an estimated 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Now that number is closer to 300,000-400,000.

Iraqi Christians are made up of a number of different Christian groups. The Chaldeans are in