Returning to the Vatican from a historic five-day visit to South Korea, Pope Francis on Monday said the international community should "stop" the Islamic State group's attacks on religious minorities in Iraq.
Francis also said he would like to visit the war-torn region if it would help end the violence against Christians and other minorities.
Reporters traveling on the papal plane asked Francis if he approves of unilateral U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State-held areas where militants have killed, beheaded and forced the conversion of Iraqi Christians and others.
"In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor," he said. "I underscore the verb 'stop.' I don't say 'to bomb' or 'make war,' [but] 'stop.'"
He said the international community — and not just one country — should decide how to intervene.
"How many times under this excuse of stopping the unjust aggressor [have] the powers taken control of nations? And they have made a true war of conquest," the pope said. "One single nation cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor.
"After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about. It's there that you must discuss 'Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?' Just this. Nothing more," Francis said.
In response to a question, the 77-year-old pontiff also said a papal visit to Iraq is "one of the possibilities."
"In this moment, I am ready," he said, "and right now it isn't the ... best thing to do. But I am disposed to this."
In recent weeks, Islamic State fighters have driven thousands of Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities from their homes. Others have been murdered, kidnapped and starved by the militants.
On Aug. 8, the U.S. began launching airstrikes against Islamic State fighters, thereby allowing Kurdish forces to protect their regional capital in northern Iraq and help minorities to escape the extremists' onslaught.
The Vatican has spoken out against the Islamic State violence and written to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Francis met with the governor of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region, where many refugees are gathering, and named Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as his personal envoy to Iraq.
Recently, the pope sent an undisclosed amount of money to northern Iraq for refugees.
The Vatican also has signaled its support for military intervention in Iraq: The Vatican's ambassador to Iraq, Monsignor Giorgio Lingua, told Vatican Radio that it is unfortunate that the situation had gotten to the point of airstrikes, "but it's good when you're able to, at the very least, remove weapons from these people who have no scruples."
The Vatican's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, stressed the point further: "Maybe military action is necessary at this moment."
In other comments to reporters Monday, Francis said he hoped to travel to the U.S. in September 2015 for a three-city tour: to attend a family rally in Philadelphia and to address Congress in Washington and the U.N. in New York.
He said a Mexico stop on that trip was possible but not decided yet. He also said he might make a one-day visit to Spain next year.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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