Two police officers are show in shadow in the nearground with a picture of Pope Francis on a wall in the background with the Iraqi flag painted at the bottom.

Federal policemen patrol by a concrete wall placed by Iraqi security forces to surround the Our Lady of Salvation Church during preparations for the Pope's visit in Mar Youssif Church in Baghdad, Iraq.

Credit:

Hadi Mizban/AP

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Pope Francis is set to visit Iraq starting Friday despite criticism of traveling amid rising COVID-19 infections and security concerns in the war-torn country. Pope Francis is the first pope to visit Iraq.

The three-day papal trip, which aims to encourage Iraq’s dwindling Christian communities and promote dialogue with Iraq’s Shiite majority, includes meetings with faith and political leaders in multiple cities including Baghdad, Erbil, Mosul and the Christian town of Qaraqosh, which emptied entirely when ISIS took over Mosul in 2014.

Also on the itinerary for the historic trip is a visit to the holy city of Najaf — a prominent center for Shiites. There, the pope will meet with the influential Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has rarely weighed in on governance matters in the politically fraught Iraq. But when he has, it has shifted the course of Iraq’s modern history.

"One of the first signs that the pope is going to see as soon as he steps off the plane is a huge poster draped along the airport with a picture of Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sistani with a famous quote from Imam Ali, a 7th-century Muslim leader. And the quote is people are of two kinds: They are either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity," said Hayder al-Khoei, director of foreign relations at the Al-Khoei Institute in Najaf, an Islamic seminary and an interfaith academy, speaking with The World’s Shirin Jaafari about the preparation underway.

Tune into The World’s broadcast today to hear more of Shirin’s reporting on the pope’s visit to Iraq.

What The World is following

Wednesday marked the “the bloodiest day” in Myanmar with a brutal crackdown on protests against the Feb. 1 military coup. It claimed 38 lives in one day. There have been 50 deaths in the violent response to demonstrations since the coup. In response to widely shared videos that show the shocking violence — which the US has called appalling — UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said it was time to “end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar.”

And in a new study by the World Obesity Federation, researchers found that the risk of death from COVID-19 is about 10 times higher in countries where more than half of the population is overweight. The study, which examined mortality data from Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization, from more than 160 countries, found that COVID-19 mortality rates increased along with countries' prevalence of obesity. The World Obesity Federation has called for giving priority for vaccinations to people who are overweight due to the increased risk of death.

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Genesis Owusu

Ghanaian Australian singer Kofi Owusu-Ansah, known as Genesis Owusu, is releasing his debut album this week titled, "Smiling With No Teeth." He recorded all 15 tracks before the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted worldwide.

For some who follow his music career, Owusu was prophetic with songs on the album that seemed to predict the racial tensions that have flared up worldwide. But the Canberra-based performer says otherwise.

"In reality, it was much more like a Groundhog Day situation where I've seen these kinds of things so many times and I've experienced racial abuse so many times to the point where it's not a shocking occurrence to me," Owusu told The World.

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Listen: Brazil’s continuing struggles with the pandemic

A man wearing a yellow sleave-less shirt and red hat is shown smoking a cigarette and walking past a large mural of someone wearing glasses.

A man walks in front of a mural at the bus station in Luziania, a suburb of Brasilia, Brazil, Feb. 25, 2021.

Credit:

Eraldo Peres/AP

On Tuesday, Brazil experienced its highest daily death toll from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Hospital systems across the country are overwhelmed and scientists say a new variant spreading there appears to be more contagious. Also, global carbon emissions dropped by 7% in 2020 compared to 2019. And, a recent decision by the Cherokee Supreme Court to remove the words "by blood" from its constitution clarifies who can be a citizen of the Nation.

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