Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi began a European tour on Sunday that will include stops in France, Germany and the United Kingdom to discuss topics including economic cooperation, security concerns and handling the coronavirus.
Kadhimi’s visits to European capitals come as his priorities are focused on battling Iraq’s worsening economic crisis, renewed calls for anti-government protests as soon as this weekend, and attacks on diplomatic missions by Iran-backed militias that have prompted Washington to threaten to shutter its embassy in Baghdad.
Accompanied by a delegation of ministers and heads of departments, Kadhimi arrived in Paris late on Sunday. Alongside France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex, the states signed on Monday three memorandums of intent across the fields of transportation, agriculture and education.
A few details of the agreements include cooperation on the construction of a metro railway in Baghdad, developing land and water resources in Iraq, and expanding the admission of Iraqi students to French universities.
Iraq and France have intensified meetings in recent months, as Paris seeks to expand its diplomatic influence and the United States draws down its troops. Baghdad hosted France’s President Emmanuel Macron last month. It was the first visit by a Western leader to Baghdad since Kadhimi assumed the role of prime minister in May. Iraq’s President Barham Salih greeted Macron as a “dear friend.”
“We don’t want Iraq to be a battleground for the conflict of others,” Salih said at a press conference following the meeting. “We want others to participate in achieving stability in Iraq and respecting its sovereignty and to prevent the interference in its domestic affairs.”
During Macron’s visit, he and Kadhimi discussed the prospect of a civil nuclear energy project to address Iraq’s regular blackouts and electricity shortages. That discussion took a leap forward on Sept. 24 when Kadhimi ordered the formation of a committee to oversee the building of nuclear reactors.
And earlier this month, Iraq hosted France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who reaffirmed France’s support for Iraqi sovereignty and “international efforts in the fight against Daesh (Islamic State),” according to a statement from their Foreign Ministry.
Also this month, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein visited Paris on a European trip of his own. As Iraq prepares for early elections in June 2021, Hussein told Rudaw while in the French capital that he requested France and other European countries to send observers to their early election to increase confidence in the results. Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary elections were marred by calls of corruption, and it took political parties months to cobble together a new government.
Next on Kadhimi’s itinerary this week is a trip to Berlin, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to receive the prime minister on Tuesday. Important agenda items for the meeting will include Germany’s reduced troop presence in the region and their departing involvement in the US-led coalition to fight the Islamic State.
In September of last year, Germany announced it would extend its mission in Iraq with the international anti-Islamic State coalition until the end of this month and would continue to reduce the number of troops across the region.
In a press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last month, Hussein stressed that Iraq still needs training and support from Germany and other forces to fight the extremist group.