The Latest: Iraq's bombed-out Mosul awaits pope's arrival

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq, aimed at rallying the country’s long-beleaguered Christian community and promoting interreligious tolerance (all times local):

9:30 a.m.

The stage in Mosul where Pope Francis will speak is surrounded by the bombed-out ruins of churches and other buildings destroyed in the climactic battle of the war against the Islamic State group.

The pope is expected to pray for Iraq’s war victims in the country’s second-largest city, which was ruled by the extremists for nearly three years. Iraqi and international forces liberated Mosul in 2017 following months of street-by-street battles.

With the rubble as backdrop, Francis is expected to make a powerful appeal to Iraq’s Christians to remain and rebuild despite decades of war and instability. He is also expected to reprise his message of interreligious tolerance and fraternity in the Muslim-majority country that is home to several religious minorities.

The square is home to four churches representing different denominations, all left in ruins. A ceremonial throne painted gold with a sculpture of a dove awaited the pontiff at center-stage. Thousands of Iraqi security forces deployed in Mosul, which was largely shut down for the visit.

It was from Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance when the group overran the area in the summer of 2014. His Friday sermon called on Muslims to follow him as “caliph.” He was killed in a U.S. raid in Syria in 2019.

IS no longer controls any territory in Iraq or Syria but still carries out sporadic attacks.