The pope made his appeal, his first direct comment on the current crisis, in a yearly speech that has come to be known as his “State of the World” address to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican.
Speaking for nearly 50 minutes in the Vatican’s frescoed Sala Regia, the 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader offered a mostly grim overview of 2019, speaking of wars, global warming, xenophobia towards migrants and the danger of nuclear weapons.
“Particularly troubling are the signals coming from the entire region following the heightening of tensions between Iran and the United States,” Francis told the diplomats from more than 180 states, Reuters reported.
He said the tensions risked “compromising the gradual process of rebuilding in Iraq, as well as setting the groundwork for a vaster conflict that all of us would want to avert”.
“I therefore renew my appeal that all the interested parties avoid an escalation of the conflict and keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-restraint, in full respect of international law,” he said.
“Our human family is scarred and wounded by a succession of increasingly destructive wars that especially affect the poor and those most vulnerable,” Francis said.
“Sadly, the New Year does not seem to be marked by encouraging signs, as much as by heightened tensions and acts of violence,” he said.
Recent tensions could likely make it impossible for Francis to visit Iraq, which he has said he would like to do this year.
The pope’s comments came after the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) targeted the US airbase of Ain al-Assad in Anbar province in western Iraq after vowing to retaliate the US assassination of top Iranian anti-terror commander, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
“Tens of surface-to-surface missiles” were fired at the strategic airbase and the attack was later confirmed by the US officials.
The IRGC has called for a complete withdrawal of US troops from the Arab country, asserting that it would not differentiate between the US and Israel in retaliating against the assassination of the Iranian national hero.