On Wednesday, ten rockets hit the Ayn Al-Asad air base in the western Iraqi province of Anbar where Pope Francis is due this weekend, the official Iraqi news agency reports.
The air base is a station of a large contingent of the international coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State.
Several missiles crashed into the facility itself, but no casualties have been reported. Iraqi security forces are investigating who the attackers were. The base was the target of a similar attack a few weeks ago and several others in the last one year.
After US forces killed Iranian General Kasem Suleiman in a drone attack in January 2020, Iran retaliated against the Ay Al-Asad base.
However, a spokesman for the Holy See, Matteo Bruni, stressed on Tuesday that Pope Francis has wanted to visit Iraq for years and does not consider the trip dangerous, either from a security point of view or because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nowhere does he meet crowds, and while there are few public events in the program, most of them indoors, with the notable exception of an open-air Holy Mass in the 30,000-capactiy stadium in Erbil, which 10,000 will be allowed to attend.
Bruni said that, as usual, Vatican security men and Swiss guards have already checked the route of the visit. Pope Francis will be provided with an armored vehicle, but it is unclear whether he will actually use it. He will, however, travel in a closed car at all times, except in Erbil, where he will travel in an open vehicle for the mass to be held at the stadium.
According to the official Vatican schedule, Pope Francis will arrive to Baghdad International airport Friday afternoon and during his stay will also visit Najaf, Erbil and Mosul. He will head back to Rome on Monday.
Title image: A member of the Iraqi armed forces walks past a mural depicting Pope Francis, on a concrete wall placed by Iraqi security forces to surround the Our Lady of Salvation Church during preparations for the Pope’s visit, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March 1, 2021. (AP/Photo/Khalid Mohammed)