France says it will aid reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in Iraq as the war-torn nation attempts to finalize a victory over Islamic State (IS) militants, who have devastated much of the country.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a news conference during a visit to Baghdad on August 26 that "we are present in the war and we will be present in the peace.”
France has played a major role in the U.S.-led coalition helping the Iraqi government battle the IS extremists who captured wide swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014 and declared an Islamic “caliphate” in areas they controlled.
Coalition air strikes helped Iraqi forces drive IS out of the northern city of Mosul, the extremists’ self-declared capital in Iraq, after a nine-month battle, dealing a major blow to the militant group.
Le Drian’s visit came as reports indicated Iraqi forces had captured the city center of Tal Afar, where IS remnants are attempting to hold out, and leaving government troops on the verge of victory in the city that used to be home to about 200,000 people.
Le Drian was in Baghdad with French Defense Minister Florence Parly to meet with Iraqi leaders.
"Even if our joint combat against [IS militants] is not finished, it is entering a phase of stabilization, of reconciliation, of reconstruction, a phase of peace,” Le Drian told a joint news conference with Parly and Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, in a statement released through his office, urged France to invest in Iraq "at the economic, commercial, and investment levels."
Those comments came as a French Foreign Ministry official said Paris would grant a 430 million euro loan ($473 million) to Iraq by the end of the year.
The French ministers met later with Kurdish leader Masud Barzani in Irbil in the Kurdistan autonomous region. U.S.-backed Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have contributed heavily to the fight against IS.
The Kurdish presidency released a statement saying Le Drian had vowed continued French support for the Peshmerga.
A controversial referendum on independence scheduled for September 25 by the Kurdistan Regional Government was also discussed, the statement said.
France and other Western countries have expressed concerns the referendum could ignite conflict between the Iraqi leaders in Baghdad and with neighboring states such as Turkey and Iran, which have large Kurdish populations.