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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - French president Emmanuel Macron arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday in pursuit of regional stability, becoming the first western head of state to travel to the country since a new Iraqi government took office four months ago.
"Our collective security and regional stability are at stake," Mr Macron said on Twitter as he met President Barham Salih in the Iraqi capital. "I come to support Iraq in a time of challenges."
Mustafa Al Kadhimi, the new prime minister, has sought to create an independent foreign policy less governed by parametres set by Iran since coming to power in May. But his government has not managed to curb the sway of Shiite militants aligned with Iran on the state.
The economy has been hard hit since February by the decline of oil prices, which is running at about $2 billion (Dh7.3bn) a month and about $3bn short of covering public salaries.
Mr Macron said "there are many challenges to guarantee the sovereignty of Iraq . internally and in the region", adding that French soldiers are fighting "side by side" with the Iraqi military to ensure "the final defeat" of extremists.
Official Iraqi media said Mr Macron will discuss closer security co-operation with Iraqi officials, pointing to France's role as a member of the international coalition against ISIS.
European powers, with the exception of Britain, opposed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and have since taken a mostly ambivalent position towards the central government in Baghdad.
France and Germany have instead concentrated on building ties with the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.
Ali Shukri, an adviser at the Iraqi presidency, told the official news agency that Mr Macron would discuss issues related to economy during his visit.
French oil company Total operates in southern Iraq. It has also operated in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq since 2012. It is a touchy issue for the central government of Baghdad, which has had constant disputes with the Kurdistan Regional Government over oil revenue.
Mr Macron's visit comes a day after he met leaders in Lebanon to press for reforms after the explosion at the Beirut port last month that left at least 190 people dead.
He is the most significant leader to visit Iraq since Mr Al Kadhimi came to power in May.
The trip was not announced publicly until Tuesday evening, with officials in Paris and Baghdad keeping a tight lid on arrangements for security reasons.
On his final night in Beirut, Mr Macron announced he was heading to Baghdad "to launch an initiative alongside the United Nations to support a process of sovereignty".
Updated: September 2, 2020 04:06 PM
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