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Joyous, hopeful scenes are not the only legacy of Pope's visit to Iraq

   March 10, 2021 11:37 PM
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by Tamara Qiblawi, with reporting from Muwafaq Mohammed

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Iraq Pope Francis
Erbil, Iraq (CNN)When Pope Francis greeted adoring crowds at an Erbil stadium for the final leg of his Iraq tour on Sunday, he showed up in an open-air vehicle. He did the same when he toured Mosul earlier, waving at a handful of onlookers against the backdrop of buildings destroyed during the war against ISIS.

The images that flashed on TV screens seemed a far cry from the Iraq of recent decades. Western heads of state and VIPs typically show up unannounced, with their itineraries a closely guarded secret. This has been standard practice in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. Francis flew back to Rome Monday and this trip has struck an entirely different note. The visit was announced nearly three months in advance. As violence intensified and coronavirus cases increased in Iraq, so too did the Pope's resolve to carry on with the tour. It was the 84-year-old pontiff's courage which was repeatedly applauded throughout the trip, more than the words he spoke. His choice of popemobile on a potentially risky visit -- open to the crowds rather than encased in bulletproof glass -- seemed to represent the dissolving of barriers between the papacy and the country's downtrodden. To many in the region, glued to their TV sets over the last four days, it seemed that this trip straddled an old, dark chapter and something altogether new.

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