Pope Francis Commends Kurdistan for Hosting Displaced Families

Pope Francis Commends Kurdistan for Hosting Displaced Families

Pope Francis on Friday (January 12) expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and the Kurdistan Region for providing shelter for the people displaced by the Islamic State (ISIS) violence and for protecting Christians, the KRG website reported.

The Pope met Barzani at the Vatican and said he hoped that “the state of coexistence, peace and harmony in the Kurdistan Region will last forever,” the official website of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reported.

The Holy Father encouraged Erbil and Baghdad to resolve their outstanding issues through dialogue and mutual understanding, during a meeting in Rome, with Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

Barzani said the Pope could play a role in resolving diplomatic relations between Erbil and Baghdad, which hit their lowest in the aftermath of the referendum held by the Kurdistan Region, which saw over 90 percent of voters, say “yes” to independence.

In November, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel canceled a trip to Baghdad after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi refused to meet with him if he also visited Erbil.

More recently, in January, Belgium’s Defense Minister Steven Vandeput revealed that the Iraqi federal government blocked him from visiting Belgian troops in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region and asked Brussels to respond diplomatically.

Since the Kurds held a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan on Sept. 25, the Iraqi government has taken punitive diplomatic, security and economic measures against the Region.

In mid-October, the Iraqi government launched an operation to retake disputed areas from the Kurdish forces in the wake of the referendum. The central government also banned international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region and closed the borders with Iran.