French President Emmanuel Makron received on Monday afternoon at the Elysee Palace his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih, who arrived in France on Sunday for his first working visit, which is expected to last until Tuesday.
The visit comes four months after Barham Saleh was elected President of Iraq, replacing the supposed French President Emmanuel Macaron to Baghdad on February 27-28, but postponed because of his busy schedule.
French diplomatic sources believe that Paris will rely more on the Iraqi paper as the only one in the current situation that can guarantee stability and reconstruction and thus achieve permanent victory over the terrorists.
“There is a real return to Iraq and Paris hopes to regain its regional status,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Laudrian said during a visit to Iraq about a month ago.
Observers saw that the journey of Ludrian from Baghdad to Erbil and Najaf over two days, reflect the importance attached by Paris to its relations with Iraq and the stability of this country.
On the other hand, officials in Baghdad see great importance for the role of mediation that France can play in the Middle East because of its good relations with the majority of the regional countries neighboring Iraq, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, not to mention its good relations with the Kurds of Iraq. “The French presence in Iraq is important to calm the game of external actors who want to make Iraq the closed field to settle their accounts,” the French daily Le Figaro quoted an Iraqi diplomat as saying in Baghdad.
But the latter considered that, moreover, Baghdad wants Paris to “adopt an Iraqi policy from the central state.” She (France), according to him, talking a lot about Kurds and Yezidis and Christians, and focused too much on minorities and not on Iraq as a state. “The French should not have ulterior motives, such as using Iraq to get something in Syria or anywhere else,” he warned.
The French president and his Iraqi counterpart will also discuss the issue of cooperation against the jihadis of the state, whose ideology has not disappeared and is still in control of some pockets throughout Iraq despite the great setback it has suffered. Paris has deployed more than 1,000 French troops near Baghdad to train the Iraqi army and the north as well.
In addition, the French diplomatic sources confirmed that the fate of the French jihadists detained in Iraq and Syria will be at the center of McCron and Saleh’s talks. Iraq could be a “closed room” for some of the French jihadists detained by the Kurds in the north of Syria in particular, before their possible return to France Following the US withdrawal from Syria. A point observers expect Iraq to use as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the French government.
The issue of reviving trade exchanges will also be a topic of discussion between the two leaders. Iraqi diplomats considered their country’s relations with Paris to be good, but they need concrete moves from the French side. In this context, a French civil aviation team is expected to visit Baghdad soon as part of the reopening of the Paris-Baghdad line, which has been closed since 2010. Baghdad also wants a French bank to set up an office in Iraq to facilitate exchanges.
The Iraqi diplomatic source said that a strategic agreement between the French and Iraqi governments is almost complete and is expected to be signed at the end of March or April. He also pointed out that France has made cultural cooperation with Iraq one of its priorities, but there is still much work to be done. There are only 13 Iraqi students in France, for more than 5,000 in Russia.
French companies appear to be very reluctant to invest in Iraq, given the insecurity and lack of good governance undermined by corruption in the oil-rich country.