Today Pope Francis is visiting Ur, in Iraq, the birthplace of Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At the end of 1998, Francis’ predecessor John Paul II was also planning to visit Iraq to draw attention to the Iraqi people’s suffering under crippling United Nations sanctions. Besides giving solace to the people he also wanted to make a pilgrimage to Ur but his timing could not have come at a worse time. As a prelude to the pope’s visit, I accompanied some members of the press who were in the country at the time and traveled to Ur to illustrate a feature story about the holy site. From the top of the Ziggurat of Ur, looking out over the empty desert, we could see U.S. war planes, which were enforcing a no-fly zone over the north and south of the country, bomb non-descript targets in the distance. The scene was surreal. In the end, it was deemed too dangerous for the Pope to make the journey to Iraq.
Before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq there were approximately 1.5 million Christians in the country. Between 2004 and today, two thirds of those have been forced into exile. You can make your own conclusion about the disastrous impact of this war on Iraq and the region’s diversity.