[Ed. – The import here is interesting, with the meet between the pope and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iraqi Shia leader who has maintained independence from Iran and is a quintessentially Iraqi figure. The overtone here is very much of an Iraqi national event. The sense of it will run counter to what Iran and the American Deep State are aiming for.]
Pope Francis opened the first-ever papal visit to Iraq on Friday with a plea for the country to protect its centuries-old diversity, urging Muslims to embrace their Christian neighbors as a precious resource and asking the embattled Christian community — “though small like a mustard seed” — to persevere.
Francis, who relishes plunging into crowds and likes to travel in an open-sided popemobile, was transported around Baghdad in an armored black BMWi750, flanked by rows of motorcycle police. It was believed to be the first time Francis had used a bulletproof car — both to protect him and keep crowds from forming.
Iraqis, though, seemed keen to welcome Francis and the global attention his visit brought. Some lined the road to cheer his motorcade. Banners and posters in central Baghdad depicted Francis with the slogan “We are all Brothers.”
The Iraq visit is in keeping with Francis’ long-standing effort to improve relations with the Muslim world, which has accelerated in recent years with his friendship with a leading Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb. It will reach a new high with his meeting Saturday with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a figure revered in Iraq and beyond.