Pope says he could defy security concerns and visit Iraq next year
Pope Francis says he wants to visit Iraq as early as next year in spite of the security conditions in the war-torn country.
"An insistent thought accompanies me when I think about Iraq, where I want to go next year, so that it can look to the future through peaceful and shared participation in the construction of the common good," Francis told a Vatican audience.
The pope voiced hope that Iraq "does not return to the tensions which come from the never-ending conflicts between regional powers".
Iraq has been a battleground for competing forces, including the Islamic State group and Iranian-linked militias, since the US-led ouster of president Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Vatican number two Cardinal Pietro Parolin warned in January that a papal trip to Iraq imposed a "minimum of conditions" that "are not currently met".
Francis has made boosting ties between Christianity and Islam a cornerstone of his papacy.
Earlier this year he visited Abu Dhabi in the UAE and Morocco.
The pope has already visited several Muslim countries, including Turkey in 2014, Azerbaijan in 2016 and Egypt in 2017.