BAGHDAD (Reuters) - France will help reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in Iraq as it emerges from a war against Islamic State, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday after talks with Iraqi officials in Baghdad.
France is a main partner in the U.S.-led coalition helping Baghdad fight the militants who seized parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014. The coalition provided key air and ground support to Iraqi forces in the nine-month campaign to take back Mosul, Islamic State’s capital in Iraq.
The city’s fall in July effectively marked the end of the “caliphate” declared by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over parts of Iraq and Syria. Iraqi forces were close to taking back full control of IS’s northwestern stronghold of Tal Afar on Saturday.
“We are present in the war and we will be present in the peace,” Le Drian told a news conference in Baghdad with French Defence Minister Florence Parly and Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
“Even if our joint combat against Daesh is not finished, it is entering a phase of stabilization, of reconciliation, of reconstruction, a phase of peace,” Le Drian said, calling Islamic State by its Arabic acronym.
During the talks, Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi urged France to invest in Iraq, “at the economic, commercial and investment levels”, according to a statement from his office.
France will grant a 430 million euro ($513 million) loan to Iraq before the end of the year, a French diplomatic source said.
Later on Saturday, the French ministers met Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, whose Peshmerga fighters have played a prominent role in the fight against Islamic State.
Le Drian said that France will continue to support the Kurdish Peshmerga, according to a statement by the Kurdish presidency. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) plan to hold an independence referendum next month was also discussed by both parties, according to the Kurdish presidency.
France and other western countries are worried that the referendum to be held on Sept. 25 could ignite fresh conflict with Baghdad and neighboring states with sizeable Kurdish communities, mainly Iran and Turkey.
During the meeting with Abadi, the French delegation “expressed its commitment to a unified Iraq,” according to the Iraqi premier’s statement.
Prior to the meeting in Erbil, a diplomat familiar with French policy said Le Drian and Parly would convey to KRG President Massoud Barzani the French position in favor of an autonomous Kurdistan that remains part of the Iraqi state.
During the meeting with Barzani, Le Drian called for continued dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to reach a mutually satisfactory solution over the referendum, according to the Kurdish presidency’s statement.
In Baghdad, the French ministers and Jaafari did not mention the fate of families of French citizens who fought with Islamic State, found in Mosul and other areas taken back from the militants. Several hundreds French nationals are believed to have joined the group.
Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Raya Jalabi in Erbil; Editing by Ralph Boulton