The imprint of Kabul on Emmanuel Macron’s trip to Iraq

It is there that the head of the Islamic State (IS) organization, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, proclaimed himself, seven years ago, caliph of the territories conquered by the terrorist group. The ruins of the Al-Nouri Mosque have been cleared since the recapture of Mosul in 2017, but the reconstruction of the building has barely begun. The lower part of the brick minaret destroyed by the jihadists during their defeat is still covered with a brown tarp. What remains of the prayer hall is supported by props. The places give an idea of ​​the work to be carried out in Iraq to overcome the dark hours of the “caliphate” and the years of war opened after the overthrow, by the United States and its allies, of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

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It is here that Emmanuel Macron chose, Sunday, August 29, on the second day of his trip to the country, to measure the progress made since the defeat of the jihadists. However, the visit turned into a delicate exercise, even a risky bet, against the backdrop of the Western debacle in another theater of operations, so far and so close at the same time: Afghanistan.

Emmanuel Macron visits the Al-Nouri Mosque undergoing rehabilitation in Mosul, August 29, 2021.

In the streets of downtown Mosul, ruins and piles of rubble are everywhere. Few of the shops have raised their curtains, while the district has been transformed into a vast entrenched camp due to a presidential visit. The convoy accompanying Emmanuel Macron – about twenty armored vehicles – made its way under close surveillance by Iraqi and French forces. Proof that the threat remains alive.

Call for cohabitation

In this martyred city, the Head of State, who came from Erbil by helicopter, first visited the Church of Our Lady of the Hour. The Catholic building is less ravaged than the nearby Great Mosque, but still bears the stigmata of the “caliphate”: the organization had transformed the place into a court. She used the cellars to execute, by hanging among other things, the victims of her hasty justice. “Three strings have still been found in recent days”, notes Brother Olivier Poquillon, a Dominican who returned in 2019, in order to support the restoration project carried out, such as that of the Al-Nouri mosque, under the aegis of Unesco, thanks to donations from the United Arab Emirates. “We are lifting the stones to rebuild confidence”said the monk dressed in white.

Emmanuel Macron at the Notre-Dame de l'Heure church undergoing rehabilitation in Mosul, August 29, 2021.

In the mind of Mr. Macron, this gesture of support for Iraqi Christians, of whom very few have returned to the city, goes well beyond this single community. Late the day before, even before the Sunni mosque in Mosul, he had visited in Baghdad, with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, a Shiite shrine, a community whose influence has continued to grow in the country with the support from Iran. Mr. Macron also spoke with Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize winner of Yazidi origin persecuted by IS. Finally, in Erbil, tribute was paid to the Kurdish fighters and their leaders, including the ex-president of Kurdistan and tutelary figure Massoud Barzani.

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