French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Baghdad on Tuesday seeking business opportunities and an improvement in ties damaged by French opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
On the first visit by a French head of state to Iraq, Sarkozy met President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
U.S. troops are preparing to pull out of cities and withdraw completely by the end of 2011. Last month, Iraq held its most peaceful elections since US occupation.
Iraqi officials believe the time has come for foreign companies to invest, especially in oil fields which hold the world's third largest proven crude reserves. French oil major Total SA is among firms qualified to bid for long-term Iraqi oil field servicing contracts.
"The situation is not perfect, but a few months ago who was betting that I was going to visit Iraq and its leaders?" Sarkozy said during a news conference with Talabani, speaking through an Arabic interpreter.
"We say to French companies that the time has come to return to Iraq," he added later after meeting Maliki, saying France would send a business delegation to Iraq in the summer.
Maliki said French firms would not face difficulties because of their country's refusal to join the effort to oust Saddam.
"They will not be starting from scratch, because French firms have a long history in Iraq," he said.
Once close ties
When the United States led an invasion of Iraq in 2003, Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac led international opposition.
Sarkozy praised Iraqis for voting enthusiastically and for a wide variety of parties in the Jan. 31 provincial polls, which took place without a single major attack in the country.
"France wants to look forward to the future and does not want to look to the past," Sarkozy said. "The past is full of pain, not only for Iraqis."
Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in U.S.-led military violence that also triggered another clash between Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims and minority Sunni Arabs.
Germany is also expected to send high-level delegations to Iraq soon.
The 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq must leave by end-2011 under a security pact signed by Bush, but Obama pledged during his campaign to withdraw faster.
Kadhum al-Muqdadi, a professor at Baghdad University, said France had good relations with Syria and Egypt and wanted to complete "a triangle" by forging better ties with Iraq.
"And let us not forget the economic side," Muqdadi said. "The Iraqi market is a promising one and France used to benefit the most during the reign of the former president (Saddam)."
The last high-level visit by a French official occurred in May 2008 when Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who accompanied Sarkozy on Tuesday, spent a few days in the country.
Last Mod: 11 Şubat 2009, 11:30