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France Opens Diplomatic Mission in Northern Iraq

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner inaugurated a new French diplomatic office in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Sunday evening, the second day of his two-day trip to Iraq. VOA's Suzanne Presto attended the opening ceremonies and reports from Irbil.

The French national anthem filled the air in Irbil, as France opened a new consulate office in the capital of northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

The bright colors of the French, Kurdish and Iraqi flags stood apart from the white building that is now France's second diplomatic location in Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Kouchner and Kurdistan's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani took part in the inauguration ceremony. Kouchner praised the security situation and stability in Kurdistan, saying that Kurds represent the future.

The foreign minister said Kurdistan's government must be a model of political stability for all of Iraq. He added that Kurdistan must set an example in the fields of human rights and women's rights.

The French foreign minister visited the southern city of Nasariyah on Saturday and Baghdad on Sunday, where he met numerous officials, including Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Kouchner said the security situation in Nasariyah is improving, but Baghdad is facing murders, kidnappings and bombings. He said Kurdistan's security and stability should be a model to these cities.

Kouchner got a big applause from his audience when he said "long live" the Kurds and Iraqis.

Taking the podium after the French foreign minister, Prime Minister Barzani called Kouchner a faithful friend to the Kurds. Mr. Barzani then praised Kurdistan for its political and economic improvements.

He said that if Kurdistan thrives, Iraq thrives. He stressed that Kurdistan needs the support of the international community, and that the Kurdish government is willing to offer all necessary support to the new French diplomatic bureau.

Mr. Barzani added that the opening of the consular office in Irbil is just the beginning of Kurdistan's strengthening relationship with France.

France, a strident critic of the war in Iraq, was one of the first countries to re-establish its diplomatic mission in Baghdad in 2003, after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein.