Alwaght- On September 2, 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Baghdad to meet with Iraqi officials. During the visit, Macron met with President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Speaker of Parliament Mohamed al-Halbousi, President of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani, Leader of the National Wisdom Movement of Iraq Ammar al-Hakim, and other Iraqi officials. The President of France is the highest foreign political official visiting Iraq since the inauguration of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi (May 7, 2020). Macron had planned to travel to Baghdad in late 2019, which was postponed due to the start of street protests on October 1. Macron's arrival in Iraq comes at a time when he arrived in Lebanon on August 31, 2020 for the second time since his first trip on August 7, 2020. In Beirut, Macron had repeatedly spoken of the need for Lebanon's transition to a situation of integrity within the country after the horrific explosion of the Beirut port and the conditioning of international aid to the government. From Lebanon, Macron left for Baghdad with the message of French support for the independence and preservation of the unity of Iraq. The overall position shows that France is seeking to restore Paris's historic role in the West Asian region, with its headquarters based in Baghdad and Beirut.
Historical relations between France and Iraq
France is one of the main states involved in the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), from which the new Iraqi government was born. In the years since the formation of the Iraqi government (in 1923), Paris has shown great interest in cooperating with Baghdad. It has signed 76 cooperation agreements with Iraq since 1933, of which 14 are still valid. After the 1960s, France played a significant role in arms sales to Iraq, but later in the 1990s, relations between the two sides turned chilly. According to published documents, serious relations between Baghdad and Paris began in the 1960s (the period of Abdul Rahman Arif) with the sale of French arms to Iraq and in the 1970s and 80s, these relationships became closer, but in the 1990s during the Gulf War the relationship of the two country drifted apart due to the involvement of France against Iraq.
However, Paris began efforts to restore these relations under Jacques Chirac (Former President of France). Accordingly, Paris, along with Berlin, as two prominent members and founder of the European Union, were among the few Western countries which opposed the US occupation of Iraq in 2003. In the years after 2003, France was the first country to grant 80 percent of its € 4.8 billion request to Iraq. However, France was never able to gain a special place in Iraq due to the opposition and influence of the United States. For the past 17 years, America has strongly opposed the influence and the increase of trade of other countries with Baghdad.
Nevertheless, the total volume of trade between the two countries reaches more than one billion euros, most of which is Iraqi oil exports to France. According to official reports, Iraq's trade level reached € 1.26 billion in 2015, but due to the fall in global oil prices in 2016 and also the recession, that figure reached to € 476 million (equivalent to 61% decrease in one year), and this decline in trade between the two countries continues to this day. France's most important exports to Iraq are automobiles, medicines, electrical and mechanical appliances, while 99 percent of Iraq's exports to France are crude oil.
Macron seeks to demonstrate European independence from the United States
Over the past decades, in the field of foreign policy European countries have always seen themselves in some way under the shadow of the United States of America and have not been able to act independently. Meanwhile, in the years after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, America imposed additional restrictions on Europeans entering the West Asian region. However, in recent years Iraqi seek to expel Americans from the region, it appears that the Europeans, led by France, intend to reconsider their policy towards West Asia.
In this regard, Macron seems to be planning to boost Paris's relations with Baghdad and Erbil by stepping out of the shadow of the US. As a matter of fact, recent French actions in the West Asian region indicate Macron's attempt to restore operational independence to Europe. Undoubtedly, Macron, as the main proponent of ending the NATO era and Atlanticism, has made Baghdad and Beirut the main focus of Paris's entry into West Asia. In fact, France, as the EU's political leader, has taken the path of independence from Washington sooner than the other members of the European Union and it seems that this trend will accelerate amongst other countries over the coming years.