French President Emmanuel Macron is calling for Iraq to break-up all of its militias, including government sanctioned groups, following a meeting with Iraqi Kurdish leaders in Paris. Kate King reports.
Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani was officially invited to Elysee Palace by the French President. On the agenda; Erbil Baghdad relations - which hit a low point following September's independence referendum in the semi-autonomous region. The discussions must have proved persuasive with Emmanuel Macron later making a rare public request. SOUNDBITE (French) FRENCH PRESIDENT, EMMANUEL MACRON, SAYING: "It is essential that there is a gradual demilitarization, in particular of the Popular Mobilization that established itself in the last few years in Iraq, and that all militias be gradually dismantled." The Popular Mobilization forces -or PMF - are sanctioned by Iraq's government and have played a major role in driving Islamic State from the region. But Iraqi Kurdish authorities accuse the PMF of widespread abuses against Kurds in ethinically-mixed regions. Macron's call highlights the power-struggle in Iraq and the balancing act required of Baghdad. SOUNDBITE (French) FRENCH PRESIDENT, EMMANUEL MACRON, SAYING: "I hope a constructive national dialogue can start very soon and France will do everything so the unity and integrity of Iraq and the full recognition of the Kurds and their rights can be preserved in this context." Kurds voted overwhelmingly to break away from Iraq in the referendum, defying the central government, which responded by seizing the oil rich city of Kirkuk and other disputed territory. In the past Macron has privately asked all sides to do all they can to avoid military confrontation, his very public plea on Saturday (December 2) a show of just how far France is willing to go to preserve Iraq's unity.