A look back at 2021's biggest stories from around the world

As countries around the globe continued to battle a devastating pandemic, our correspondents covered wars, drug trafficking and lonely elephants

Ever Given container ship is seen in Suez Canal in this satellite image taken by Satellogic?s NewSat-16 on March 25, 2021. Satellogic/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT
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Pope Francis visits Iraq

This year, Pope Francis made a world-first visit to Iraq. Despite security concerns threatening to spoil the trip before it began, the pontiff arrived in March for a four-day tour. He took in Baghdad, Najaf and Ur before going north to Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh — once home to Iraq's largest Christian community before being overrun by ISIS in 2014.

The National's Iraq team of Sinan Mahmoud and Haider Husseini were joined by correspondent Gareth Browne in capturing all the best moments in words and video.

Pope Francis declared Christianity to be alive in Iraq despite the persecution and violence its followers endured and called for the country to “let the guns fall silent".

Global shipping hit as the 'Ever Given' runs aground in the Suez Canal

In March, the giant container ship Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking maritime traffic through it for six days.

Live, on-the-ground coverage of the incident and the ensuing legal dispute between the ship's owners and the canal authority was provided by The National's correspondents in Cairo — Mahmoud Nasr and Kamal Tabikha — until the ship's departure in July.

The National also interviewed the driver of an excavator featured in thousands of memes shared by millions worldwide. Dubbed the “little digger”, the vehicle and its driver became national heroes in Egypt because of their relentless efforts to refloat the stuck vessel.

Experts spoke to The National's Cairo bureau about the significance of the blockage on international trade and provided much-needed analysis on the Suez Canal's Authority's plans to modernise their operations after the incident.

A handout picture released by the Suez Canal Authority on March 25, 2021 shows the Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen), a 400-metre- (1,300-foot-)long and 59-metre wide vessel, lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across the waterway of Egypt's Suez Canal. Egypt's Suez Canal Authority said it was "temporarily suspending navigation" until refloating of the MV Ever Given ship was completed on one of the busiest maritime trade routes. / AFP / Suez CANAL / - / == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / Suez Canal" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==

Cher and the rescue of the world's 'loneliest elephant'

It wasn't all bad. The world's loneliest elephant, Kavaan, met a new partner and gained a new home in 2021 thanks to singer Cher. Haroon Janjua witnessed Kavaan's last days in Islamabad zoo before his departure for a new life in Cambodia.

The 33-year-old Asian elephant was chained up, isolated and denied proper care during the hot summer months. He lived in an enclosure of less than 2.5 square kilometres with little water to bathe in and a poor diet. Conservation experts say elephants need a roaming area of 150 square kilometres.

The National also covered the joyous moments Kavaan met another elephant for the first time in eight years.

Gaza rocked by air strikes as war with Israel flares

Bombs began falling on Gaza on May 10 after violence in occupied East Jerusalem spilt over into 11 days of fighting.

More than 240 people, including 66 children, were killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes. Israel said 4,300 rockets were fired from Gaza in to its territory, killing 12 people.

The National's Jerusalem correspondent Rosie Scammell and freelancer Nagham Mohanna covered events as they happened and how the destruction affected the lives of Gazans.

Children and adults have been left with life-changing injuries, destroyed homes and decimated incomes. The clean-up bill alone was about $485 million, the World Bank estimates.

We followed the story of Sara Al Metrabei, a young girl injured by shrapnel in the bombings, which destroyed her family home. Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Amy McConaghy met Sara's family in Amman, where Jordan's King Abdullah II had paid for her treatment. Once she was discharged, Nagham Mohanna followed up with the family in their Gaza home.

A full timeline of the conflict, including personal stories of those affected, can be found here.

The Middle East's Captagon crisis

In a multi-part series, The National's correspondents from across the Middle East investigated the impact that the drug known as Captagon is having on the region.

The production, trafficking and consumption of the amphetamine tablets have all skyrocketed in the past decade.

Although the drug was closely associated with Syria's civil war, our investigation showed that production of the pills is increasingly taking place in Lebanon and Jordan, risking destabilising the region and flooding the Middle East with cheap but dangerous narcotics.

We explored the cat-and-mouse game between smugglers in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and customs authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the front lines of the region's war on drugs.

Use the map below to explore our Captagon stories from across the Middle East.

South Sudan turns 10

The world's youngest nation turned 10 in 2021, and Senior Correspondent Ahmed Maher travelled to its capital, Juba, to see how the culmination of a 56-year fight for independence had worked out.

South Sudan is mired in poverty and violence after the end of a civil war in 2018. But a peace deal struck in February last year has shown glimmers of hope.

Deputy Foreign Minister Deng Dau Deng Malek and South Sudan’s first female vice president, Rebecca Nyandeng Garang de Mabior, told The National of their ambitions for the country, from achieving equality to ending poverty by 2030.

Updated: December 26th 2021, 8:10 AM