France’s Holland starts official visit to Iraq

January 02, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — French President Francois Hollande arrived in Iraq on Monday amid a fierce fight against the Islamic State group. During his one-day visit, Hollande is scheduled to meet with Iraqi President Fuad Masum and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the capital, Baghdad. Later, he’ll travel to the country’s self-governing northern Kurdish region to meet French troops and local officials.

The visit comes as Iraqi troops, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, are fighting IS in a massive operation to retake the northern city of Mosul. Iraqi state TV said Holland will discuss “increasing support to Iraq and the latest developments in the fight against Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for IS.

In quotes published by the Elysee official Twitter account, Holland promised that France would remain a long-term ally of Iraq and called for coordination between intelligence services “in a spirit of great responsibility.”

France is part of the U.S.-led international coalition formed in late 2014 to fight IS after the extremist group seized large areas in Iraq and neighboring Syria and declared an Islamic “caliphate.” France has suffered multiple terrorist attacks claimed by IS.

Hollande, on Twitter, said Iraq was in a precarious position two years ago, when IS made its blitz. But now the tide has turned. “The results are there: Daesh is in retreat and the battle of Mosul is engaged.”

Since the Mosul operation started on Oct. 17, Iraqi forces have seized around a quarter of the city. Last week, the troops resumed fighting after a two-week lull due to stiff resistance by the militants, bad weather and thousands of civilians trapped in their houses.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, the senior U.S. military commander, Brig. Gen. Rick Uribe, praised the Iraqi forces fighting mainly on the eastern side of the city, saying they were “at their peak.” Uribe agreed with al-Abadi’s assessment that it would take another three months to liberate Mosul.

He predicted the troops would face a different fight when they cross to the west bank of the Tigris River, saying it will mostly be a “dismounted” battle fought in part on narrow streets, some of which were not wide enough for a vehicle to pass.

Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city is located about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad. While the Syrian city of Raqqa is considered the caliphate’s de facto capital, Mosul is the largest city under its control. It is the last major IS urban stronghold in Iraq.

Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.

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