VATICAN CITY, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Pope Benedict XVI praised visiting delegates from the Kurdish north of Iraq for promoting religious tolerance in the region, the Kurdish government said.
Kurdish President Massoud Barzani met Thursday with the pope in Vatican City. Barzani carried with him information on the status of the minority Christian community in Iraq.
"Pope Benedict XVI expressed his gratitude to the president and the Kurdistan Regional Government for their support for the Christian community in Iraq, and commended his leadership in promoting peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance in Iraq," a statement from the KRG read.
Violence targeting the Iraqi Christian population, traditionally based in the north, displaced as much as half of the ethnic minority community in 2008. An al-Qaida attack on a Christian church in Baghdad in October killed at least 60 people and left nearly 100 severely injured.
Catholic leaders in Baghdad, meanwhile, said that despite pledges from top Iraqi government officials that security would improve, Christians are afraid and are leaving the country.
There were around 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Conservative estimates report that half that number remains in the country.
The statement from the Kurdish government said 10,000 Christian families have fled the violence since 2003.