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Middle east France

Sarkozy pushes business during surprise Baghdad visit

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Text by Clea CAULCUTT

Latest update : 2009-02-10

French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday on a surprise visit to meet senior Iraqi leaders. This is the first visit by a French head of state to Iraq since the 2003 US invasion, opposed by France.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Iraq Tuesday on an unannounced trip, the first since the 2003 US-led invasion, to meet senior Iraqi leaders and to pledge help for the war-torn country’s reconstruction.

"I came to express the solidarity of France," Sarkozy told reporters at a joint news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad.

"The French people were influenced a lot by the events that happened in Iraq," he said. "France will be beside Iraq, from the beginning, on the path to success. The world is in need of a strong, united and sovereign Iraq."

Sarkozy’s visit is widely viewed as a sign of a new French attitude towards Iraq. In 2003, France opposed the US invasion of Iraq in a policy that strained relations between Paris and Washington.

Analysts say the French president’s visit to Iraq was also designed to promote French influence in a region dominated by the United States since 2003.

“Before the war, France assisted Iraq’s oil production,” says FRANCE 24’s chief correspondent Lucas Menget, who has extensively covered Iraq. “This is a way of saying that France will supply some economic help.”

This means Sarkozy's trip is also a chance to foster business opportunities. French major oil company Total SA is among firms qualified to bid for long-term Iraqi oil field servicing contracts.

Timed after provincial election, before a likely Obama visit

Sarkozy timed his visit just weeks after Iraq’s Jan. 31 provincial elections, which were hailed as a success by the international community. “France thus shows it supports the consolidation of democracy in Iraq,” says FRANCE 24’s Christophe Robeet in Muscat, the capital of Oman.

In 2003, then French President Jacques Chirac was a vocal opponent of former US President George W. Bush’s plans to invade Iraq.

But with a new man in the White House, Sarkozy’s visit to Iraq marks the turning of a page in France’s Iraqi policy.

Menget notes that the French president’s visit preceded a likely visit by his US counterpart, Barack Obama. “Everybody was poised for a surprise visit by the American president,” explains Menget, “France is showing it’s quick to move and wants to play a role in this part of the world.”

Sarkozy was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Defense Minister Hervé Morin and Foreign Trade Minister Anne-Marie Idrac.

‘The time for putting pressure on Iraq is over’

The French president also held talks with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose Shia bloc made a strong showing in the Jan. 31 provincial elections.

Speaking to reporters at a joint press conference with Sarkozy, Maliki declared that "the time for putting pressure on Iraq is over," in a broadside against Washington.

After Iraq, Sarkozy will embark on a whistle-stop tour that will take him to Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, where the French president is expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear programme and the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Date created : 2009-02-10