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Pope’s Visit to Iraq on Hold

October 25, 1999

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Planning for Pope John Paul II’s proposed pilgrimage to Iraq is on hold, the Vatican’s foreign minister said Monday.

Preparations were ``in a pause for reflection,″ Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran told Vatican Radio, without elaborating.

Iraq has left the Vatican waiting on a formal invitation to the pope, who has made clear he wants to visit what is believed to be Abraham’s birthplace in present-day Iraq as part of a series of millennium pilgrimages.

A proposed meeting this month between Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto and Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, failed to take place, church officials in Iraq say.

Diplomats said a recent scathing critique of the pope by Iraqi scholars, carried by the Iraqi government news agency, soured the mood between Iraq and the Vatican.

The United States, Britain and Iraqi dissidents in exile all have advised against the trip on grounds that President Saddam Hussein would exploit it for propaganda purposes.

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