France denies Iraq has yet asked for money to try jihadist fighters

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s foreign ministry denied on Thursday a report that it had been asked by Iraqi authorities to pay up to $2 million per fighter for Baghdad to deal with French jihadists transferred from Syria to Iraq.

The ministry added that it respected Baghdad’s sovereignty in judging foreign fighters.

Citing several unidentified sources, French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported on June 7 that Iraq had asked Paris for $1 million for each foreign jihadist sentenced to death and $2 million for those given long-term sentences.

The article echoed other media reports that Baghdad has been seeking some $2 billion in compensation for dealing with hundreds of suspected Islamic State fighters held by Kurds in northeastern Syria, where there is no legal framework to deal with them.

“We have not received any request to this effect,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said when asked about the Figaro report.

“We respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi state, including its judicial institutions that have declared themselves competent to try French Islamic State fighters.”

While the ministry denied the report, a French official briefing reporters after a visit by Iraq’s prime minister in May said Paris expected Baghdad to make an official request, including financially, on what it needed to handle large number of Islamist fighters.

Iraq is conducting trials of thousands of suspected Islamic State fighters, including hundreds of foreigners, with many arrested as the group’s strongholds crumbled throughout Iraq.

France, which has ruled out repatriating its Islamist fighters, is facing criticism at home from some lawmakers and human rights groups after 11 French nationals were sentenced to death in Iraq over the last two weeks. Paris opposes the death penalty and has asked Baghdad not to carry out the executions.

“The Iraqi authorities know that we oppose it (the death penalty) in all places and in all circumstances,” said Von der Muhll.

There are some 450 French nationals still held in Kurdish camps, including about 200 adults.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Frances Kerry