SULAIMANI (ESTA) — French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday France will continue to help the Kurdistan Region, following his visit to Mosul.
Macron arrived in Erbil early on Sunday and was welcomed by Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani alongside a delegation including Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani.
The French president met with Barzani, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and Parliament Speaker Rewaz Fayaq at the Kurdish presidential palace in Erbil, after he returned from Mosul.
Macron and the Region’s president held a joint press conference in Erbil, in which the French president assured Barzani France’s “solidarity” to continue the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
He further said France would continue to support and help the Kurdistan Region and to provide assistance to Halabja Chemical Weapons Exposed Patient’s Hospital.
Regarding Turkish strikes on Sinjar, Macron said he had discussed the matter with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to work to halt the airstrikes on the district.
Barzani, for his part, said he and Macron discussed bilateral relations and joint works in all the fields.
“We look forward to France’s support,” he said.
Earlier on Sunday, Macron paid a visit to the ISIS’ former Iraqi stronghold Mosul, a day after vowing to keep troops in the country.
He said ISIS did not differentiate between people’s religion and nationality when it came to killing, noting that the militants killed many Muslims.
“We will do whatever we can, shoulder to shoulder, with the governments of the region and with the Iraqi government to fight against this terrorism,” Macron said in English following a visit to an iconic mosque that was destroyed by the extremists.
“We will be present alongside with sovereign governments to restore peace,” he added.
Macron further said France would help in rebuilding mutual respect as well as monuments, churches, schools and mosques and most importantly “economic opportunity”.
Macron began his visit to Mosul by touring the Our Lady of the Hour Church, a Catholic church that was badly damaged during the rule of ISIS that lasted from 2014 until the extremists’ defeat three years later.
Macron moved around the church — whose walls are still riddled with bullets — amid tight security as a priest accompanying him gave him details about the church built in the 19th century. The French president then went up to the roof overlooking parts of Mosul accompanied by Iraqi officials.
“We hope that France will open a consulate in Mosul,” Iraqi priest Raed Adel told Macron inside the church, AP reported.
He also called on the president to help in the reconstruction of Mosul’s airport.
Macron urged Iraq’s religious communities to “work together” in rebuilding the country.
“We will bring back a [French] consulate and schools,” he pledged, while criticizing the pace of reconstruction in Mosul, where the ISIS fought its last urban battle, as “too slow”.
France, which finances French-speaking Christian schools in the region, aims to boost the plight of Christians in the Middle East, as well as other minorities.
“This message is civilizational but also geopolitical. There will be no balance in Iraq if there is no respect for these communities,” said the French president.
Macron also made a stop at the site of Mosul’s Al-Nuri mosque, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared the establishment of a “caliphate” in 2014.
ISIS blew up the famed 12th century mosque in June 2017 as Iraqi forces closed in on the jihadists in Mosul’s Old City.
UNESCO is now organizing a vast project to rebuild it almost identically, with its famed leaning minaret.
The mosque and church are part of three reconstruction projects led by UNESCO and funded by the United Arab Emirates to the tune of $50 million.
The initiative, called “Reviving the Spirit of Mosul”, the largest in the organization’s history, includes plans to rebuild Ottoman-style heritage houses as part of a European-funded project.
The French president on Saturday visited the Shia Muslim shrine of Imam Musa Al-Kadhim in northern Baghdad district of Kadhimiya, accompanied by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
It was the first such visit for a French president.
Macron will also meet the family of a Peshmerga fighter killed by ISIS, to pay tribute to the Kurdish contribution to the fight against ISIS militants.