French President Emmanuel Macron visited Mosul, a former Iraqi stronghold of the Islamic State jihadist group, on Sunday, a day after he vowed to keep troops in the country.
He also visited the site of a church and a mosque that were destroyed in 2017, pointing to all communities in Iraq.
In a speech at the devastated Church of Our Lady of the Hour, which the UN cultural agency UNESCO is working to restore, Macron called on Iraq’s religious communities to work together to rebuild the country. Work hard “
“We will bring back a (French) consulate and school,” he said, criticizing the pace of reconstruction in Mosul, where IS fought its last civil war, “too slow.”
The predominantly Sunni Muslim city was liberated from IS in 2017 after three years. According to a local official, only 30-40% of his health facilities have been restored.
Macron expressed France’s commitment to stay in Iraq during a regional summit in Baghdad, largely dedicated to the war on terror and the effects of the Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan following the US withdrawal.
“No matter what Americans choose, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight terrorism,” he told a news conference on Saturday.
On Sunday, he said France and Britain would urge the United Nations on Monday to work for the establishment of a “safe zone” in Kabul to protect humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.
“The plan is fully operational,” he said.
His visit to Mosul, a melting pot of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities, is a sign of France’s support for Christians in the Middle East.
Prior to the 2003 US-led invasion that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq had a significant minority of 1.5 million Christians, but a total population of about 40 million after the waves of migration during the conflict and persecution. That number has dropped to 400,000. .
France, which finances French-speaking Christian schools in the region, aims to highlight the plight of Christians in the Middle East, as well as other minorities.
Ahead of his visit, the French president said: “This message is civilized but also geopolitical. If these communities are not respected, there will be no balance in Iraq.”
Macron also visited the site of Mosul’s Al-Nuri Mosque, where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of a “caliphate” in 2014.
ISIS blew up a famous 12th-century building in June 2017 when Iraqi forces shut down jihadists in the old city of Mosul.
UNESCO is now working on a large project that is almost identical in construction, with its famous tilted tower.
The mosque and church are part of three UNESCO-led construction projects and have received ڈالر 50 million in funding from the United Arab Emirates.
The largest “revival of the Movale spirit” initiative in the organization’s history includes plans to rebuild Ottoman-style heritage houses under a European-funded project.
In Baghdad on Saturday, Macron accompanied by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazmi visited the shrine of Imam Musa Kazim, a Shiite Muslim in the northern district of Kazmiya.
He said it was the French president’s first visit.
On Sunday, Macron also met with young Iraqis at Mosul University, including businessmen and students.
Later, on his second and final day in Iraq, he visited Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region, to hold talks with Kurdish President Natchez Barzani.
“France is committed to fighting our common enemy, ISIS (IS), which is showing alarming signs of re-emergence in Syria and Iraq,” Macron told Barzani.
The French leader was also to meet the family of a Peshmerga fighter killed by IS to pay tribute to Kurdish participation in the fight against jihadists.
And before completing his tour of Iraq, he was expected to meet with French special forces at Camp Grenier.
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