French President Emmanuel Macron was to pay a visit Sunday to the ISIS group’s former Iraqi stronghold Mosul, a day after vowing to keep troops in the country.
Macron made the commitment during a regional summit in Baghdad largely devoted to the fight against terrorism and the impact of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan as the US withdraws.
“No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism,” he told a news conference on Saturday.
On Sunday, the French leader will set foot in Mosul, a Sunni Muslim city recaptured from the ISIS in 2017 after three years.
His visit to Mosul, a melting pot of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities, is seen as an opportunity to renew his support for Christians in the Middle East.
Macron was to visit the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, a church that the UN’s cultural agency UNESCO is working to restore.
France, which finances French-speaking Christian schools in the region, aims to boost the plight of Christians in the Middle East, as well as other minorities.
“This message is civilizational but also geopolitical. There will be no balance in Iraq if there is no respect for these communities,” said the French president.
Macron was also due to make a stop at the site of Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque, where ISID leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared the establishment of a “caliphate” in 2014.
UNESCO is now organizing a vast project to rebuild it almost identically, with its famed leaning minaret.
The mosque and church are part of three reconstruction projects led by UNESCO and funded by the United Arab Emirates to the tune of $50 million.