France’s Macron to hold top-level talks in Baghdad: Iraq officials

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French President Emmanuel Macron will make his first official trip to Iraq on Wednesday, government sources in Baghdad told AFP, to signal solidarity with the crisis-hit country.

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The one-day visit following his trip to Lebanon will make Macron the most senior foreign official to travel to Iraq since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ascended to power in May.

“He will meet the Iraqi prime minister and president and is hoping to hold talks with a range of political actors,” an Iraqi government source told AFP.

Two other Iraqi officials confirmed the visit. Macron's office has yet to publicly confirm the trip.

The focus, the Iraqi sources said, would be on “sovereignty” -- insisting Baghdad carve out an independent path away from the tug-of-war between its two main allies, Washington and Tehran.

The message will echo that of France's top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian during a trip to Iraq in July, when he insisted Baghdad "should dissociate itself from regional tensions".

On August 27, French Defense minister Florence Parly held talks in Baghdad and Arbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region.

Unlike most foreign officials visiting Iraq, Macron will not stop over in Arbil, and is instead hoping Kurdish leaders will come to Baghdad to meet him.

Iraq has been rocked by a series of crises this year, starting with a US drone strike in January that killed top Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes.

Iran retaliated with strikes against US troops in western Iraq, and Tehran-backed groups are suspected of launching volleys of rockets on American diplomatic, military and commercial interests in recent months.

As OPEC's second biggest crude producer, Iraq was hit hard by the collapse in oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic forced the country's fragile economy to sink even further.

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