Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 28 November 2020

Iraq's Mustafa Al Kadhimi visits Europe to discuss economic and health crises

Baghdad signs three deals with Paris

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi on Monday began a four-day tour of Europe, where he will meet top officials in France, Germany and the UK.

Mr Al Kadhimi, who took office in May, is expected to discuss the removal of Iraq from the EU’s list of high-risk countries, economic co-operation, ways to battle the coronavirus pandemic and the war against terrorism, his office said.

The Iraqi leader met President Emmanuel Macron and other top French officials on Monday.

"Mr Al Kadhimi pointed to the importance of strengthening co-operation between the two countries in many sectors, as Baghdad is seeking to strengthen relations with the international community on the basis of common interests and to restore Iraq to its status in the world," his office said.

Baghdad and Paris signed three preliminary agreements on transport, agriculture and education.

The Iraqi leader will head to Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel late Monday and is scheduled to speak before Tuesday's meeting.

His last stop will be London to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The Iraqi prime minister is accompanied by a high-level delegation of ministers and officials.

They include the finance, oil, defence and foreign ministers, the governor of the central bank and the head of the investment commission.

Mr Al Kadhimi’s adviser, Hisham Dawood, told state-run TV that Iraq was seeking political and economical support from the EU.

Projects will be discussed with France, Mr Dawood said, including the Baghdad Elevated Metro Project, building airports in different provinces and projects in the agriculture and food industry.

Baghdad has been appealing to the international community for financial help after it emerged from a three-year war against ISIS, which left large parts of the country destroyed.

Mr Macron became the first foreign leader to visit Baghdad since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the appointment of Mr Al Kadhimi.

During the visit the French president said Iraq should reassert its sovereignty despite an increase in tensions between the US and Iran, its two biggest allies.

Mr Macron said he visited Baghdad "to launch an initiative alongside the United Nations to support a process of sovereignty".

He offered to help Iraq fight ISIS sleeper cells and resist foreign interference.

This month, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reaffirmed support for Iraq's "stability, sovereignty and integrity" in the face of attacks on diplomats, foreign forces and civilians.

Armed militia violence against the US-led coalition fighting ISIS has been going on for months in Iraq, although only a few of the attacks have claimed lives.

The US threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad if the attacks continued and the government did rein in the militias.

Mr Al Kadhimi’s visit to Europe comes at a time where Iraq is facing many internal challenges, including an economic crisis that is heightened by the drop in oil prices and the coronavirus.

The Iraqi leader has directed his efforts into tightening security around the country to try to control the Iran-backed militias.

But the militias have stepped up a campaign of undermining the state’s sovereignty in recent months, resisting Mr Al Kadhimi's attempts to put them under state control.

Updated: October 20, 2020 04:20 AM

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