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Iraqi militia group announces ceasefire for pope’s visit

The Iraqi militia group that last month fired rockets at Erbil announced a ceasefire during this weekend’s historic visit from Pope Francis.

Saraya Awlia al-Dam (Guardians of Blood) said in a statement published Thursday on Telegram channels affiliated with Iraq militia groups that they welcome the pope’s visit and “will stop all types of military action during the visit of the pope of the Vatican out of respect for [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani.”

Pope Francis arrives in Baghdad on Friday where he is due to meet with Iraqi political leaders, civil society representatives, and priests. On Saturday, he will travel to Najaf and meet with Sistani, the highest Shiite authority in Iraq. The pontiff will also visit the historic site of Ur.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will travel to Erbil to meet with political and religious leaders before visiting Mosul and Qaraqosh. Sunday evening he will celebrate mass at Erbil’s Franso Hariri stadium. He returns to Rome from Baghdad on Monday morning.

Security for the first papal visit to Iraq has been a top concern, especially after recent deadly rocket attacks on sites housing US forces. On February 15, multiple rockets were fired at Erbil’s airport, leaving two people dead and thirteen people injured. A week later, four rockets were fired at Balad Air Base in Salahaddin province, injuring a US contractor, and several rockets landed in and near Baghdad’s Green Zone.

On Wednesday, two days ahead of the pope’s arrival, ten rockets hit Ain al-Asad airbase in Anbar.

Saraya Awlia al-Dam had claimed responsibility for the Erbil attack.