Pope calls for peace, dialogue following deadly protests in Iraq
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis says that he is following with concern the violent events taking place in Baghdad over the past few days.
Protests and clashes broke out in the Iraqi capital on Monday, spilling into Tuesday morning, which left at least 22 people dead and dozens injured.
The violence flared after an influential Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, announced his withdrawal from Iraqi politics, prompting hundreds of his angry followers to storm the government palace, sparking clashes with security forces.
The protests reportedly eased after Sadr ordered his followers to end their protests in central Baghdad on Tuesday.
Addressing the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Hall for the General Audience on Wednesday, the Pope prayed that God may give peace to the people of Iraq.
Pope Francis then recalled his visit to the country last year, highlighting his first-hand experience of the “great desire for normalcy and peaceful coexistence among the different religious communities in Iraq.”
The Pope also stressed that dialogue and fraternity are the best way “to deal with the current difficulty” and arrive at the goal of peaceful coexistence.
Protests in Baghdad
The latest clashes follow 10 months of political deadlock since the country’s October parliamentary elections.
Sadr emerged as the main winner in the election but failed in his efforts to form a government with other blocs, composed mostly of rival, Iran-backed Shia parties.
This round of violence pitted loyalists of Sadr, who has positioned himself as a nationalist opposed to all foreign and particularly Iranian influence, against political and armed groups backed by Iran.
In recent years, rivalries among Shiites have become the main driver of political instability in Iraq. Sadr is the leader of a faction that has been fueled by a distrust of Iran which was born in the war between the neighbouring countries in the 1980s, and shaped by years of Iranian and manipulation in Iraq’s affairs.
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