Macron commits France to supporting Iraqi sovereignty in surprise visit

In a Wednesday visit to Iraq announced on Tuesday evening, French President Emmanuel Macron is to commit France to upholding Iraqi sovereignty, according to 24Matins.

The diplomatic visit will be the most significant by any leader since Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was elected in May. Kadhimi is a former journalist who lived in Iran, Germany and the United Kingdom, before returning to Iraq in 2003 to form a media network. Although he has strong connections with Western countries, he has also given assurances to pro-Iranian groups in Iraq.

Macron’s visit comes at the end of a two day visit to Beirut, where on Tuesday night he announced his visit to Baghdad the following day, “to launch an initiative alongside the United Nations to support a process of sovereignty”.

According to 24Matins, France’s ‘sovereignty initiative’ is seen as an indirect message to Turkey, whose military incursion into the KRI in June - aimed at disrupting Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants - angered Baghdad and Erbil.

The move positions France as a more neutral partner to Iraq than either the United States or Iran, who are both seen by Iraqis to have compromised Iraq’s sovereignty in their conflict with each other.

After being sworn in as Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Kadhimi told the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq that “Iraq will not be a ground for settling accounts and launching attacks on any neighboring or friendly country”, a reference to the U.S. assassination of Qassem Soleimani in January.

Macron said that Iraq should not have to choose between domination by regional powers or Islamic extremism, 24Matins reported. “There are leaders and a people who are aware of this, and who want to take their destiny in hand. The role of France is to help them do so,” Macron said.

Macron has been aiming for France to fill a Western leadership role in the Middle East for a number of years, as the U.S. under President Donald Trump has become more isolationist.

In August, Macron has urged further peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and visited Beirut following a devastating explosion on August 13. In Lebanon, Macron put pressure on leaders to carry out reforms and awarded legendary Lebanese singer Fairouz the Legion of Honour.

Macron’s visit to Iraq is of “great importance, as it’s the third by French officials in a single month,” said al-Kadhimi adviser Husham Dawood, according to 24Matins. Macron will not visit the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), however, but Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani will meet Macron in Baghdad for talks.