Pope Visits Iraq Amidst COVID Crisis, Conflict, Soaring Poverty and Struggling Economy

Shia Muslim Leader and Pope to Meet

Washington DC - Pope Francis kicks off a 3-day Iraq tour and meetings with Muslim leaders, government officials and representatives of the country's dwindling Christian population. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Iraq saw poverty numbers climb to 37% and an estimated 11% contraction in its economy.

"Iraq was already struggling before the pandemic hit and now the suffering is even worse," stated the Executive Director of the religious development group Jubilee USA Network, Eric LeCompte. LeCompte advises the Vatican and Catholic leaders on economic issues. "The coronavirus crisis for Iraq means poverty has doubled and the country can't make debt payments and also pay workers."

In February the International Monetary Fund reported the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant decline in the country's main revenue source, oil. Coupled with challenges of corruption, the Fund estimated the downturn of Iraq's 2020 economy by 11%.

"The Pope's visit brings hope as Iraq's people suffer from the pandemic, conflict, corruption, soaring food prices and increasing poverty," shared LeCompte. "Like too many countries, it will take Iraq's economy years to rebound to pre-pandemic levels. Iraq's pre-pandemic economy wasn't great and already had too much suffering."

The IMF forecasts that Iraq's debt will steadily rise through 2023 and could see pre-pandemic economic outputs in 2024.

On Saturday, Pope Francis travels to Iraq's holiest city, Najaf, to meet with Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani who leads Iraq's Shia Muslims.

"The meeting between Ayatollah Sistani and Pope Francis signifies the Pope's commitment to tackle world problems with people of all faiths," stated LeCompte whose organization is composed of multiple faith groups including Muslims, Jews and Christians. "The Pope took the name Francis after the famed St. Francis who met with the Muslim Sultan Malek al-Kamil in 1219. The meeting between St. Francis and Sultan al-Kamil is a symbol for Pope Francis of the critical importance of interfaith dialogue."

Iraq is the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, an important figure for Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Read the IMF's recent report on Iraq here.