ROME — Pope Francis reached out to the people of Iraq Wednesday, sending his condolences for deaths and injuries suffered by protesters and promising his prayers.
“Dear brothers and sisters, my thoughts go out to beloved Iraq, where protests this month have left many dead and injured,” the pontiff told the crowds gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for his weekly General Audience Wednesday.
“As I express my condolences to the victims and closeness to their families and the injured, I invite the authorities to hear the cry of the people calling for a dignified and peaceful life,” Francis continued. “I urge all Iraqis, with the support of the international community, to go down the path of dialogue and reconciliation and to seek the right solutions to the country’s challenges and problems.”
“I pray that this battered people will find peace and stability after so many years of war and violence, during which they have suffered so much,” he said.
As Breitbart News reported Monday, anti-government protests in Iraq have already resulted in 75 deaths, and the Baghdad government has imposed evening curfews.
The Iraqi military has deployed forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) in Baghdad and Nasiriya, cities that have seen exceptionally violent demonstrations.
Over the weekend, the CTS surrounded Tahrir Square in Baghdad, where demonstrators have been meeting up, and soon after complaints of excessive violence were lodged against CTS troops.
“Our protests are peaceful, we only have flags and water bottles, but they keep firing bombs at us, firing tear gas at us. What have we done to deserve this? What have we done? The young men who died, what did they do?” one demonstrator asked on Saturday night.
Many Iraqi students joined the demonstrators on Sunday despite warnings from Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi. Abdul-Mahdi’s promises of reform have so far been unpersuasive and protesters are increasingly vocal about wishing to bring down the entire government.
Four members of the Iraqi parliament have already resigned and one of the largest parliamentary blocs is now holding sit-ins to protest Abdul-Mahdi’s government, heightening the sense that the prime minister is beginning to lose the struggle to retain his office.