Pope Francis ends epic Iraq tour preaching peace

Pope Francis ended his historic tour of Iraq on Monday (March 8), flying out of Baghdad International Airport after visiting cities torn apart by conflict, meetings Muslim and Christian leaders, and preaching a message of peace and coexistence over war.

Francis waved to crowds one last time as he boarded the plane, which had Vatican and Iraqi flags waving from its cockpit windows.

During the trip, the first ever papal visit to the country, he toured four cities including Mosul, the former Islamic State stronghold where vast areas still lie in ruins.

It was there he repeated his message again, telling Iraqis that "peace is more powerful than war" and added Iraq would "always remain with me, in my heart."

Another historical first came when he met Iraq's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric.

Hours after the Pope’s departure, the country's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi made a televised address calling for further dialogue.

"On the basis of this historic responsibility, and in the atmosphere of love and tolerance promoted by the visit of His Holiness the Pope to the land of Iraq, the land of Mesopotamia, we present today the call for a national dialogue, to be a pathway for achieving the aspirations of our people."

The whirlwind and potentially risky visit appeared to have been well received by the public, with officials saying it was a chance for the world to see their perpetually crisis-hit nation in a new light.