Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Pope Francis have concluded their meeting at the Holy See on Friday.
Their meeting was a short one, but they touched on the current situation in the Kurdistan Region, relations with Baghdad, and the refugees and IDPs being hosted in the Region, Fuad Hussein, chief of staff of the Kurdistan Region Presidency, told Rudaw.
"Barzani in general put forward the economic, social and political conditions and relations with Baghdad. They were all discussed," Hussein added.
“The Pope asked a number of questions with respect to the situations we were going through,” he explained, with the pontiff asking about what the Vatican could do in terms of relations with Iraq and internationally.
“More importantly, the role Vatican could play in helping the Kurdistan Region in order to resolve [its issues] with Baghdad in a peaceful way, through talks and dialogue was discussed in detail,” Hussein explained.
He said that the KRG visits to European countries like France and Germany demonstrate to Iraq that Baghdad cannot put the Kurdistan Region at bay and disconnect it from the outside world.
Baghdad’s embargo on the KRG “is being shattered bit by bit,” he said. “There is going to be even more meetings, visits and support.”
Rulers in Baghdad will eventually understand “the politics they are pursuing against the Kurdistan Region is not right.”
Addressing a recent visit of three opposition parties to Baghdad, Hussein said that “genuine” talks must be held with a representative from the KRG, because any agreement that is ultimately made, must be “reached between the KRG and the Iraqi government.”
He was optimistic that the long anticipated dialogue “will start in the end,” preferably before Iraqi elections in May.
PM Barzani is also expected to meet with Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's de facto foreign minister, Rudaw’s correspondent in Rome reported.
At the time, the Kurdish premier said the Pope has a deep understanding of the situation in Iraq and of refugees made homeless by the ISIS war, adding that the pontiff had expressed the Vatican’s support for the Kurdish government.
Prior to the rise of ISIS in 2014, there were about 400,000 Christians in Iraq of various Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriacs and Armenian sects.
Barzani's delegation includes Fuad Hussein, who is the chief of staff of Kurdistan Region's presidency, as well as Rezan Qadir, the KRG representative to Italy.
Minority communities like Shabaks, Yezidis, Christians, and Kakais were largely displaced in places like Baghdad, the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, and northern Syria as ISIS swept across Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The Iraqi government declared ISIS defeated in December 2017. Iraqi, Kurdish, and international security forces are reporting nearly daily of on-going counter-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria.
As of early 2018, according to local pan-Christian groups, about 100,000 Christians are sheltered in the Kurdistan Region and 100,000 returnees to disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil.
“Radical ideologies, extremist lectures, wars and massacres especially against our Yezidi and Christian brothers and sisters have not affected this culture,” Barzani said in December 2016 at the height of the ISIS war. “But it has caused hesitation, fear, a deep wound and pain and posed a serious threat to the culture of coexistence in Kurdistan and Iraq.
The Vatican said in a November 2017 statement that its wants to allow Christians who were forced to flee the Iraqi province of Nineveh "to finally return to their roots and recover their dignity."
According to KRG Joint Crisis Coordination Centre 850 families, 5,100 individuals fled Nineveh Plain since the incursion of Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary fighters who were supporting the Iraqi Army's control of disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by Baghdad and Erbil.
More than 100 churches and monasteries in Mosul alone had been demolished by ISIS militants since 2014. Elsewhere in the country, there was the 2010 October attack on the Assyrian Church in Baghdad that killed over 50 people, including many worshipers.
Pope Francis received US President Donald Trump for their first official meeting in May 2017.
A Vatican statement following the meeting highlighted that both made "particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities."
According to 1987 Iraqi census, 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq.