France will assist in reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in Iraq as it emerges from the war with 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 to fight the militants who seized parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014. The coalition provided key air and ground support for Iraqi forces in the nine-month campaign to take back Mosul, Islamic State’s capital in Iraq.
The fall of Mosul, in July, in effect marked the end of the “caliphate” declared by Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, over parts of Iraq and Syria. The town of Tal Afar was cut-off from the rest of IS-held territory in June.
“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, referring to Islamic State by its Arabic acronym.
The French ministers were also due to meet Iraqi Kurdish leaders in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, whose Peshmerga fighters have also played a key part in the fight against Islamic State.
France and other western countries are worried that the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) plan to hold an independence referendum next month could ignite fresh conflict with Baghdad and neighbouring states who host sizeable Kurdish communities, mainly Iran and Turkey.
A diplomat familiar with French policy said Le Drian and Parly will convey to KRG President Massoud Barzani the French position in favour of an autonomous Kurdistan that remains part of the Iraqi state.
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.