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Iraq VP Visits France to Improve Ties


Iraq's Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi is in France this week for talks with top French officials and executives that underscore the new relationship between the two countries after the 2003 U.S.-led war.

Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi held talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his foreign minister along with top business leaders. His three-day visit, which ends Thursday, has also included discussions with French oil giant Total about possible contracts.

The French are eager to do business with Baghdad after a chill in relations following the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which former French leader Jacques Chirac staunchly opposed.

But things have changed dramatically under President Sarkozy, who visited Iraq in February, the first trip there by a French leader since 2003.

Denis Bauchard, an Iraq expert at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris says in many ways, France and Iraq have already turned the page.

"I think we are back to normal and friendly relations with the Iraqi government and I think it is a good thing for both Iraq and France," he said.

In recent weeks, Iraqi officials have been exploring new relationships with governments besides the United States, which plans to withdraw all its troops from Iraq by December 2011. France was a key trading partner with Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime and French oil ties stretch back decades.

But analyst Bauchard does not think this gives France any particular business advantage over other countries.

"I do not think there is a particular privileged. But the Iraqis know French firms and in the past there were contracts with many French firms. And even before Saddam Hussein's government. The French companies are quite competitive in some fields; water supply, energy, telecommunications," he said.

The Iraqi vice president is expected to meet Thursday with more French executives.

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