A strategic shift for France?

Strengthening ties with post-coalition Iraq

BAGHDAD, 21 January – As the talk of the United States-led international coalition withdrawal increases, France is making significant moves to bolster its presence in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. A recent report by the International Centre for Development Studies (ICDC) highlights France’s strategic realignment in the region, emphasizing its efforts to foster a more balanced and equal partnership with Iraq.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Tel Aviv and his handling of the Gaza conflict signal a nuanced approach in the Middle East. Macron’s advocacy for Israel’s right to self-defense and his call for a humanitarian ceasefire underscore France’s shifting stance, prompted by reactions from regional countries perceiving bias towards Israel.

This realignment comes as France seeks to avoid its past mistakes in Africa, where it significantly intervened in political and economic affairs without establishing genuine partnerships. Macron’s focus is now on creating balanced relationships in the Middle East, leveraging France’s political, military, economic, cultural, and societal influence.

In 2023, France and Iraq engaged in several mutual visits, resulting in agreements enhancing cooperation in security, energy, anti-corruption, and culture. Notably, France pledged support to Iraq in combating ISIS and offered advanced air defense systems. Approximately 600 French soldiers are currently training Iraqi forces, with France expressing willingness to establish desert forces in Iraq.

A landmark $27 billion deal was signed between Total Energies, Qatar Energy, and Iraq to develop Iraq’s oil industry, harness associated gas for electricity generation, and advance renewable energy. This investment signifies France’s intent to strengthen its influence in Iraq’s energy sector.

The report also addresses the competitive dynamics with the United States, Iran, and Turkey, all closely monitoring France’s efforts in Iraq. Iran, in particular, is cautious of French economic influence, especially in the energy sector. The French presence in Iraq is seen as a strategic move to reduce Iraq’s reliance on Iranian gas, thus enhancing its energy independence.

Turkey, aspiring to be a major trade partner and engage in vital Iraqi infrastructure projects, is cautiously observing France’s growing ties with Iraq and Erbil. Ankara’s concerns stem from the perception that France’s closer relations with the Kurdistan region may strengthen Kurdish influence in the area.

The report concludes that France needs to increase its investments and maintain a balanced policy in Iraq, dealing with all parties collaboratively. As France navigates this strategic shift, its actions are crucial in shaping the future landscape of Iraq’s international relations and the broader Middle East region.