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France FM calls for Iraq reconciliation ahead of poll

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Iraq to discuss reconstruction and to meet Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Massum and parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi
LUDOVIC MARIN (AFP/File)
Baghdad is looking to drum up funds at a reconstruction conference in neighbouring Kuwait

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday urged Iraq to push for national reconciliation with its Sunnis and Kurds ahead of "inclusive" elections.

On a visit to Baghdad following the country's December declaration of victory over the Islamic State group, he said France would play its part in the country's reconstruction and called for peaceful general elections in May.

"The electoral process (must) take place under the best conditions and be based on an inclusive logic," he said, urging respect for "the different communities of the whole of Iraq, be it the Sunnis, the Yazidis, the Christian minorities, the Kurds."

"We are in a period when Iraq needs stability, reconstruction and reconciliation," he added, saying that would pave the way to "peaceful elections and... an inclusive government".

Le Drian, who previously visited Baghdad in August last year, also met Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Sunni President Fuad Massum and Kurdish parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi.

France has been a key member of the US-led military coalition fighting IS after the jihadist group seized large swathes of Iraq and neighbouring Syria in 2014.

Baghdad is looking to drum up funds at a reconstruction conference in neighbouring Kuwait from Monday to Wednesday after announcing the nationwide defeat of IS.

Officials say it needs nearly $90 billion to rebuild after three years of war against IS.

"We have been present in the fight against Daesh, we must be present in peace," Le Drian said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

"We were there to participate in the coalition. We will also be there in the reconstruction phase," he added.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari called for French expertise to be used in the reconstruction.        

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (AFP/File)

Le Drian said he had told officials France opposed the death penalty for two French women awaiting trial in Iraq over accusations of joining IS.

They risk execution under the country's counter-terrorism law.

"As happens every time a French is potentially condemned, we act very strongly to make our position known, but for now the procedure has not started," he said.

But he added that suspected jihadists should face trial in the countries where they committed their "crimes".

The United Nations urged Iraq to halt all executions, saying 106 took place in the country last year.

Iraq is still reeling from the rise of IS and the punishing fightback it took to crush the jihadists, with swathes of its territory in ruins and millions of people displaced.

Authorities in the resource-rich nation say there has been a heavy toll on oil, electricity and manufacturing infrastructure, as well as basic services such as water and sanitation.

Iraq needs $88.2 billion to rebuild after years of war against the Islamic State group, Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili said Monday.

In 2017, France lent 430 million euros (more than $500 million) to oil-rich Iraq, whose coffers have suffered from the war against IS and a drop in world crude prices.

Le Drian also headed to Iraqi Kurdistan to meet leaders of the autonomous region, hit by a political and economic crisis after a September independence referendum bitterly opposed by Baghdad.

The French minister is then to head to Kuwait to attend the Iraq reconstruction conference on Tuesday and a meeting of the anti-IS coalition with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson.

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