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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.

Updated 18 mins ago - Sports

U.S. swim team wins 6 Tokyo Olympics medals, including 1st gold

Chase Kalisz of Team United States celebrates after winning the Men's 400m Individual Medley Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimmer Chase Kalisz has become the first Team United States Olympian to win gold at the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: The Rio 2016 silver medalist's winning time in the men's 400 meters Individual Medley Final was 4 minutes 9.42 seconds. His teammate Jay Litherland took silver, .86 seconds behind him.

Golfer Bryson DeChambeau will miss Olympics after testing positive for COVID

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States on the 18th tee during Day Two of the 149th Open at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 16 in Sandwich, England. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Golfer Bryson DeChambeau has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the Tokyo Olympic Games, USA Golf announced late Saturday.

What's happening: "Patrick Reed will replace DeChambeau and is undergoing the requisite testing protocol" Sunday and Monday before his expected departure for Japan, per a USA Golf statement.