The French prime minister is visiting Baghdad on Thursday, with a large
delegation of French political and business leaders, in another
positive sign for the war-torn nation. A trip to Kurdistan is also on
the agenda for the French official.
Minister Francois Fillon is the first foreign leader to visit Iraq
since US-led forces officially withdrew combat troops from Iraqi cities
on June 30.
He told a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki that in the wake of the U.S. pullout, Iraq had
"now entered a new phase."
Mr. Fillon arrived in the Iraqi
capital, Baghdad, with a large delegation of French officials and top
French business leaders for a short visit. The French prime minister's
office said several business agreements would be signed during the
Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, for his part, urged the
French government and French firms to invest in Iraq, now that the
security situation in the country has improved.
He says that a
horizon of cooperation is now open for French firms and they welcome
their presence in Iraq in all fields to help rebuild infrastructure.
France, he adds, is an historic partner of Iraq, and Iraq will work
toward strong political and economic ties.
France was a top
business partner of Iraq during the long reign of Saddam Hussein,
building many roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects,
including Iraq's telecommunications network.
Ministry spokesman, Mohammed al-Askari told a press conference that the
country's military was aiming to build its forces to meet the
challenges facing it, after the U.S. pullout.
He says "we
have the power to quash any violence, but that we hope that we don't
have to face too many challenges at once." He adds that Iraq is trying
to build its air capabilities, first with helicopters, and eventually
with fighter jets, to be ready for the final U.S. pullout in 2011.
security spokesman, Qassem Mohammed Atta, also told journalists that
Iraqi security forces were busy taking all precautions to stop
terrorist attacks, now that U.S. troops had handed over most security
responsibilities to Iraqi forces.
He says that it's necessary to
erect barriers to stop terrorist attacks across Baghdad, but that this
is just a temporary step to bring the security situation under control.
"Once things improve," he adds," we will re-evaluate, before taking steps
to remove all concrete barriers."
Iraq announced, Wednesday, that
the month of June was the bloodiest in eight months, with an increase
in deadly attacks in the lead-up to the withdrawal of U.S. troops.