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Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

  • The trip comes after two decades of attempts to bring a pope to the birthplace of Abraham, a prophet considered the patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Between the lines: Recent rocket attacks and the presence of rogue Shiite militias have heightened concerns for security.

  • Iraq's number of daily coronavirus cases has also been on the rise since late January, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • The pope is expected to travel in an armored car with a security detail, per AP.

Itinerary:

  • March 5: Welcome ceremony with civil authorities and visit with the president at the Presidential Palace in Baghdad. Visits Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation.
  • March 6: Visit with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani in Najaf. Inter-religious meeting in Nassirya and Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Baghdad.
  • March 7: Meeting with religious and civil authorities from Iraqi Kurdistan in Erbil. Prayer for victims of war and visit with the Qaraqosh community in Mosul.
  • March 8: Farewell ceremony in Baghdad.

Go deeper

Updated Mar 3, 2021 - World

U.S. contractor dies of "cardiac episode" after rockets hit Iraq airbase

One U.S. contractor died of a "cardiac episode" after least 10 rockets hit the Al Asad Airbase in western Iraq hosting U.S.-led coalition troops, a Pentagon spokesperson said Wednesday.

The big picture: It's the first rocket attack since the U.S. launched an airstrike against facilities in Syria associated with an Iran-backed militia group last week, citing recent assaults and "ongoing threats to American and coalition personnel in Iraq.

Capitol Hill's far right pushes Anglo-Saxon values, European architecture

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Multiple far-right House Republicans have begun planning and promoting an America First Caucus aimed at pushing "uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions," Punchbowl News first reported.

The big picture: "The document was being circulated as the GOP is struggling to determine a clear direction as it prepares to try winning back control of the House and Senate in the 2022 elections," AP writes.

Super typhoon Surigae explodes to Cat. 5 intensity

Super Typhoon Surigae seen on satellite imagery Saturday morning east of the Philippines. (CIRA/RAMMB)

Super Typhoon Surigae surged in intensity from a Category 1 storm on Friday to a beastly Category 5 monster on Saturday, with maximum sustained winds estimated at 180 mph with higher gusts.

Why it matters: This storm — known as Typhoon Bising in the Philippines — is just the latest of many tropical cyclones to undergo a process known as rapid intensification, a feat that studies show is becoming more common due to climate change.