France FM in Iraq to discuss reconstruction
BAGHDAD - France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Iraq on Monday to discuss the war-torn country's reconstruction after Baghdad declared victory against the Islamic State jihadist group.
"I have come to tell you of France's support and to accompany you. We will always be there. We were there to participate in the coalition. We will also be there in the reconstruction phase," Le Drian said.
France has been a key member of the US-led military coalition fighting IS after the jihadist group seized large swathes of Iraq and neighbouring Syria in 2014.
Baghdad is looking to drum up funds at a reconstruction conference in neighbouring Kuwait from Monday to Wednesday after announcing the defeat of IS nationwide at the end of last year.
"We hope French expertise will be used for the reconstruction," Iraq's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari replied.
Le Drian, who previously visited Baghdad in August last year, is also to meet Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Massum and parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi.
During his visit, he is expected to stress the importance of involving the Shiite-majority country's Sunni community in national reconciliation ahead of general elections in May, members of the minister's entourage said.
He is also to express France's opposition to any death penalty for two French women awaiting trial in Iraq over accusations of joining IS.
They risk the death penalty under the country's counter-terrorism law.
The United Nations urged Iraq to halt all executions after it learnt of 106 in the country last year.
Iraq is still reeling from the rise of IS and the punishing fightback it took to crush the jihadists, with swathes of its territory in ruins and millions of people displaced.
Authorities in the resource-rich nation say there has been a heavy toll on oil, electricity and manufacturing infrastructure, as well as basic services such as water and sanitation.
Iraq needs $88.2 billion to rebuild after years of war against the Islamic State group, Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili said Monday.
In 2017, France lent 430 million euros (more than $500 million) to oil-rich Iraq, whose coffers have suffered from the war against IS and a drop in world crude prices.
Le Drian is also on Monday to head to Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region hit by a political and economic crisis after a controversial independence referendum led to Baghdad retaking the oil-rich province of Kirkuk from the Kurds last year.
The French envoy is then to head to Kuwait to attend the Iraq reconstruction conference on Tuesday and a meeting of the anti-IS coalition with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson.