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

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.

Surrounded by shells of destroyed buildings people arrive to join Pope Francis who will pray for the victims of war at Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square, in Mosul, Iraq, once the de-facto capital of IS, Sunday, March 7, 2021. The long 2014-2017 war to drive IS out left ransacked homes and charred or pulverized buildings around the north of Iraq, all sites Francis visited on Sunday. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

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.

Pope Francis, left, is welcomed by Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani, second from left , upon his arrival to Irbil airport, Iraq, Sunday, March 7, 2021. Pope Francis arrived in northern Iraq on Sunday, where he planned to pray in the ruins of churches damaged or destroyed by Islamic State extremists and celebrate an open-air Mass on the last day of the first-ever papal visit to the country. (AP PhotoHadi Mizban)

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.

Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani, right, greets Pope Francis upon his arrival in Irbil international airport, Iraq, Sunday, March 7, 2021. Pope Francis arrived in northern Iraq on Sunday, where he planned to pray in the ruins of churches damaged or destroyed by Islamic State extremists and celebrate an open-air Mass on the last day of the first-ever papal visit to the country. (AP PhotoHadi Mizban)

Iraqi security forces deploy in Mosul, northern Iraq, once the de-facto capital of IS, where Pope Francis will pray for the victims of war at Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square, Sunday, March 7, 2021. The long 2014-2017 war to drive IS out left ransacked homes and charred or pulverized buildings around the north of Iraq, all sites Francis will visit on Sunday. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis walks down the steps of an airplane as he arrives at the Irbil international airport, Iraq, Sunday, March 7, 2021. Pope Francis and Iraq's top Shiite cleric delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence Saturday, urging Muslims in the war-weary Arab nation to embrace Iraq's long-beleaguered Christian minority during a historic meeting in the holy city of Najaf. (AP PhotoHadi Mizban)