Macron arrives at Iraq summit aimed at easing Middle East tensions

FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron is among leaders set to attend a regional summit Saturday in Iraq, with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and a deadly jihadist attack in Kabul overshadowing the meeting.

Macron warned on Saturday the Islamic State group “remains a threat”, speaking days after an affiliate of the jihadists claimed a deadly bombing in Kabul.

“We all know that we must not lower our guard, because Daesh (IS) remains a threat, and I know that the fight against these terrorist groups is a priority of your government,” Macron said, after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi in Baghdad, where the summit of Middle East leaders begins at midday.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II are also due to attend the summit, while the foreign ministers of arch-foes Iran and Saudi Arabia will also be present.

Organisers have been tight-lipped on the agenda, but the meeting comes as Iraq, long a casualty of jihadist militancy, tries to establish itself as a mediator between Arab countries and Iran.

Iraq seeks to play a “unifying role” to tackle crises shaking the region, sources close to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi have said.

Oil-rich Iraq has been caught for years in a delicate balancing act between its two main allies, Iran and the United States.

Iran exerts major clout in Iraq through allied armed groups within the Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful state-sponsored paramilitary network.

Baghdad has been brokering talks since April between US ally Riyadh and Tehran on mending ties severed in 2016.

Macron aims to highlight France’s role in the region and its determination to press the fight against terrorism, his office said.

The French president considers Iraq “essential” to stability in the troubled Middle East, it added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)