THE President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has sent a message of moral support to Christians in Iraq and the wider Middle East.
During a visit to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, once the base of the the Islamic State group, he expressed his “appreciation of all the sects that make up Iraqi society”. He was speaking after a visit to the Church of Our Lady of the Hour. He said that religious diversity was key for the future of Iraq and all states in the region.
President Macron visited a mosque, and also met members of the Yazidi community. Earlier, he had said that his message was “civilisational, but also geopolitical. There will be no balance in Iraq if there is no respect for these communities.”
The President’s visit to Mosul followed his attending a regional conference on Saturday, convened by the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Senior figures from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were in attendance. In the shadow of recent developments in Afghanistan and a growing feeling in the region that the United States was not the dependable ally in adversity which many had believed it to be, there was a remarkable mood of reconciliation.
Particular focus was on Qatar, the one Arab state that has close relations with the Taliban. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, held meetings with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and the Vice-President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum. Both countries participated in a recently ended diplomatic boycott of Qatar, imposed because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam in general.
Arch-rivals for regional political influence, Iran and Saudi Arabia were represented at the Baghdad meeting by their foreign ministers. While no direct talks were held, Iraqi officials said that there were plans to build on earlier discreet contacts between the two in Baghdad. “What we understand from both sides is that they have a desire to reach positive results,” the Iraqi Foreign Minister said.
Of equal significance, just before the Baghdad conference, Saudi Arabia, a close political and military ally of the US, signed a defence co-operation deal with Russia. The crisis in Afghanistan and America’s handling of it are reverberating around the Middle East. It is too soon to predict its effects, but greater regional co-operation could in the long term mean a more secure life for Christians there.