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Pope’s visit to Iraq, ‘a symbol of hope’: UN agencies

The Pope’s arrival in the Christian northern heartland, will come as a “message of peace and unity supported on a pillar of diversity”, UNESCO said. 

“This message is at the core of our mandate, where inclusion and diversity are critical to understanding, mutual respect, and ultimately a more peaceful and just world”, it added. 

Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday, and is expected to travel to Mosul on Sunday, where, according to media reports, he will pray for the victims of the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which left thousands of civilians dead. 

UNITAD welcomes ‘unifying message’

Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) Karim Khan, welcomed the historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq, and the message it carries to all communities, “who have severely suffered from the atrocities perpetrated by ISIL”.

“The Pope’s visit to Iraq, his meetings with Iraqi religious leaders and the religious sites he is visiting carry a unifying message of peace and coexistence among all communities in Iraq, especially those who have suffered at the hands of ISIL from all faiths, including the Christian community,” said the Special Adviser, in a news release on Friday.

He added that “the fact that the Christians of Iraq will receive communion from the Holy Father in Iraq is a huge and momentous event. In particular, His Holiness’ visits to Mosul and Qaraqosh, and his prayer of sufferage for the victims of war at the Church square of Hosh al-Bieaa; one place that was ravaged by ISIL crimes, will obviously be a deeply personal moment for many of the Christian flock in Iraq. It will also underline that Iraq is enriched by people of all faiths – and from all ethnic groups – and that every life matters.”

The Special Adviser added that the pursuit of accountability in fair trials is crucial to achieving the healing and reconciliation that the Pope will call for. 

UNESCO also noted that the visit to Mosul carries particular significance, as the city – one of the oldest in the world, and a cultural and religious centre for centuries – suffered extensive damage during the occupation by ISIL extremists between 2014-2017. 

During those three years, various battles took place, leaving Mosul in ruins, its heritage sites reduced to rubble, religious monuments and cultural antiquities damaged, and thousands of Moslawis – as the city’s inhabitants are known – displaced, leaving them scarred and with immense humanitarian needs. 

Following the city’s liberation, UNESCO together with partners, including the Iraqi Government, has been working to preserve and promote its rich and diverse cultural and religious heritage, as well as prevent violent extremism through education. 

“It is through education and culture that Iraqis, men and women alike, will be able to regain control of their destiny and become actors in the renewal of their country”, Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, said in a message. 

‘Revive the Spirit of Mosul’ 

UNESCO’s flagship initiative “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”, which was launched in February 2018, sums up the ambition and “full spectrum” of its action, the agency highlighted. 

It focuses not only on reconstructing the city’s iconic heritage sites, but also empowering Moslawis as agents of change involved in rebuilding their city through culture and education.

As a first major step towards the recovery of Mosul, UNESCO is rehabilitating the Al Nouri Mosque and its famous leaning minaret, Al-Tahera and Al-Saa’a churches. The agency has also started working on the rehabilitation of Al-Aghawat Mosque, as well as on the rehabilitation of the old houses of the city. 

Beyond the rehabilitation of architectural landmarks, the initiative includes on the-job training for young professionals, strengthening the capacities of craftspeople, job-creation opportunities and technical and vocational education. 

UNICEF/Jennifer Sparks
Girls at a primary school in west Mosul, Iraq.

‘Voices of the children of Old Mosul’ 

UNESCO is also helping rebuild schools and empowering teachers to prevent spread of violent extremism. 

So far, 26 trainers, 743 primary school teachers and managers, and 307 parents have been trained in preventing violent extremism through education.  

The programme aims to equip learners, of all ages, and notably young women and men, with the knowledge, values, attitudes and behaviours, which foster responsible global citizenship, critical thinking, empathy and the ability to take action against violent extremism. 

UNICEF/Anmar
Children and young people at a psychosocial support programme in Mosul, Iraq.

‘Bringing back cultural life’ 

Reviving the Spirit of Mosul is also about bringing back cultural life in Mosul, UNESCO said, adding that with its partner the agency is working on reviving music in the city.  

Part of a project entitled “Listening to Iraq”, the programme seeks to empower vulnerable populations by celebrating cultural diversity and strengthening social cohesion.  

A Moslawi musician, who saw the beauty of music robbed from his city, summed up the importance: 

“By bringing back music to Mosul”, Ehsan Akram Al Habib, a 39-year-old violinist, said, “we are trying to bring back life to our city.” 

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