French President Emmanuel Macron visited the Islamic State’s former Iraqi stronghold Mosul on Sunday.
The French President visited Our Lady of the Hour Church in the devastated city. In a speech at the site, he urged Iraq’s religious communities to “work together” to rebuild the country.
“We will bring back a (French) consulate and schools,” he pledged while calling the pace of reconstruction in Mosul “too slow”.
He also made a stop at the Al-Nuri mosque, where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared the establishment of a “caliphate” in 2014. The mosque was blown up by IS in June 2017 as Iraqi forces closed in on them.
Both the mosque and church are being reconstructed as part of UNESCO’s “Reviving the Spirit of Mosul” project.
The French President is set to meet with young Iraqis at the University of Mosul. A visit to the capital of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan Arbil is also planned, alongside a visit to French special forces at Camp Grenier.
After the visit, he is scheduled to hold talks with Kurdish President Netchirvan Barzani, as well as his predecessor, Massud Barzani.
The Iraqi Kurdish president took to Twitter to comment on the meeting, “I look forward to discuss bilateral ties, Iraqi elections and other pressing issues with President Macron. I remain grateful for France’s continued support to the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.”
Macron will also meet the family of a Peshmerga fighter killed by the IS group, to pay tribute to the Kurdish contribution to the fight against the jihadists.
On Friday, the leader visited the Shiite Muslim shrine of Imam Musa Al-Kadhim in northern Baghdad district of Kadhimiya, accompanied by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.
The visit is the first of its kind for any French president, according to Macron.
The visit comes a day after he spoke at a news conference, saying, “No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism.” It is seen as an opportunity for him to renew his support for Christians in the Middle East.
France finances French-speaking Christian schools in the region and aims to better the conditions of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.