Politics

Macron backs Iraq's sovereignty on first Baghdad visit

By Khalid al-Taie and AFP

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French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi, mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, give a joint press conference in Baghdad on September 2nd. [Gonzalo Fuentes/AFP]

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi during his first official visit to Baghdad Wednesday (September 2nd), where he stressed Iraq's sovereignty amid mounting regional tensions.

Coming straight from a two-day trip to crisis-hit Lebanon, Macron is the most prominent world leader to visit Iraq since Kadhemi came to power in May.

The trip aims to "launch an initiative alongside the UN to support a process of sovereignty", Macron announced on his final night in Beirut.

In Baghdad, he voiced his support for his Iraqi counterpart Barham Saleh to help Iraq fight "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) sleeper cells and resist foreign interference.

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Iraqi President Barham Saleh met with French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly in Baghdad on August 27th. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Presidency Office]

"Iraq has been going through a challenging time for several years, with war and terrorism," Macron said.

"You have a transition to lead. France will be by your side so the international community can help," he added.

Strengthening Iraqi sovereignty

France has doubled down on its signs of support in recent tumultuous months.

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly held talks in Baghdad on August 27th, pledging continued support for Iraq's fight against ISIS remnants.

Top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was the only minister to accompany Macron from Lebanon, had visited Iraq in July where he urged Baghdad to "dissociate itself from regional tensions".

Macron last week insisted that "the fight for Iraq's sovereignty is essential".

He said Iraqis, who had "suffered so much", deserved options besides domination by regional powers or extremists.

Ali al-Shukry, head of the advisory board in the Iraqi Presidency Office, said Tuesday Macron's visit focused on strengthening economic, cultural and security co-operation between Iraq and France.

He added that France will "support all official efforts to strengthen Iraqi sovereignty and will deal with Iraq as a fully sovereign country".

Continued support against ISIS

Macron's visit to Iraq is "historic" and will serve to boost ties between the two countries, particularly in the fight against ISIS remnants, Issam al-Fayli, a political science lecturer at al-Mustansiriyah University, told Diyaruna.

France, as is well known, had a leading role in the war on ISIS and continues to provide support to Iraqi forces, he said.

In light of the ongoing danger posed by the group's remnants, strengthening security co-operation with France has become urgent in order to ensure the militants do not regain a foothold, he added.

The visit will likely result in increased co-ordination to track down ISIS's global networks and financiers, said al-Fayli, noting that Iraq now holds a huge database on ISIS cells.

He also stressed that Iraq needs French expertise in order to improve its security forces' performance.

The visit indicates that France supports the Iraqi government's efforts to protect its sovereignty, and asserts Iraq's status and role in achieving regional stability, he said.

France also seeks to expand economic ties with Iraq, through boosting investment in the country's energy and infrastructure sectors, said al-Fayli.

France looks to build a strategic relationship with Iraq that will "strengthen the presence of its investment companies and their contribution to the reconstruction process", he said.

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