French leader arrives in Iraqi capital on official visit

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French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday for an official visit following a two-day trip to Lebanon, Iraqi television reported.

Macron is the first head of state to visit the Iraqi capital since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, formed a new government in May. The French leader is expected to meet with him and with President Barham Salih during his one-day trip, which comes amid a severe economic crisis and pandemic that has put a huge strain on Iraqi politics.

Speaking in Lebanon on Tuesday night, Macron said that he will fly to Iraq to meet top officials. He said he would also discuss the case of French citizens who fought with the Islamic State group, which was defeated in Iraq in 2017. Nearly a dozen French IS members have been sentenced to death before Iraqi courts.

Al-Kadhimi, who is backed by the United States, assumed office on May 7 when Baghdad’s relations with Washington were precarious. The January killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a top Iraqi militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in an American drone strike in Baghdad prompted demands by Shiite lawmakers that U.S. forces leave Iraq.

Al-Kadhimi, as previous Iraqi leaders, has had to walk a tightrope amid the U.S.-Iran rivalry. He visited Washington last month, where he held talks with President Donald Trump. He has said his administration is committed to introducing security sector reforms as rogue militia groups stage near-daily attacks against the seat of his government.

Al-Kadhimi’s administration inherited many crises. State coffers in the crude oil-dependent country were slashed following a severe drop in prices, adding to the woes of an economy already struggling with the global coronavirus pandemic.

SOURCE: AP

PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron. AFP

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