Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to Iraq begins on March 5, 2021. This first ever papal visit to Iraq aims to provide moral support to Christian minorities in Iraq and the region, while facilitating Vatican’s goal of building bridges with the Muslim world. The visit comes close to seven years after religious minorities in the region, including Christians and Yazidis, have been targeted for annihilation by Daesh.
In 2014, the terror organization Daesh unleashed genocidal atrocities against religious minorities: Yazidis, Christians and others. One of its largest attacks began on August 3, 2014. On that day, Daesh launched a violent attack against Yazidis in Sinjar. Daesh fighters killed hundreds, if not thousands of men. As part of the same campaign, Daesh fighters abducted boys to turn them into child soldiers and women and girls for sex slavery. More than 3,000 women and girls are still missing and their fate is unknown. A few days after the attack on Sinjar, Daesh also attacked the Ninevah Plains and forced over 120,000 people to flee for their lives in the middle of the night. The atrocities are being classified as genocide.
Daesh brought about this genocide by way of murder, enslavement, deportation and forcible transfer of populations, imprisonment, torture, abduction of women and children, exploitation, abuse, rape, sexual violence – unabated. Daesh specifically targeted religious minorities, including Muslim minorities, for destruction in an attempt to annihilate religious pluralism and establish a purely Islamic region, in accordance with its perverted interpretation of what this would involve.
To this date, religious minorities in Iraq continue to suffer the consequences of the atrocities and require a litany of assistance. Survivors and families of the victims are still waiting for justice being served. They also need to see proactive steps being taken to ensure that they have a future in Iraq and the region.
In light of the upcoming visit, several non-governmental organizations have written to Pope Francis asking to raise specific issues with the many actors that Pope Francis will be meeting, including:
“1) To provide reparations for survivors of the genocide by Daesh and to adopt legislation that delivers justice for victims.
2) To put in place security and political arrangements that will protect ethno-religious communities in their historical homelands from future atrocities and demographic changes. In addition to reconstructing destroyed areas in Sinjar, Tel Afar and the Nineveh Plains, basic services and livelihood opportunities must be provided to encourage communities to return to their homes.
3) To provide psychosocial therapy support for survivors, particularly women and children, to assist in social reintegration.
4) To change laws that affect the religion and dignity of religious minorities, such as Article 26 of the unified national card Law No. 3 of 2016.
5) To promote religious education across Iraq by means of cultural events and activities that inform the population about minority communities; integrate education about religious minorities in the Iraqi school curriculum to combat misinformation.
6) For the United Nations to facilitate a follow-up conference to broaden the endorsement for the Interfaith Statement by other religious communities.”
These six points aim to address the issues that continue to be neglected and require urgent response. It is not yet clear whether Pope Francis will be able to raise these important issues. The papal visit to Iraq can do more than only give a glimpse of hope to religious minorities in the region. The visit can bring about change to the situation of religious minorities in Iraq and beyond.