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French ministers visit Iraq in support of IS fight
The foreign and defence ministers of France will affirm their country's support in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) armed group during a visit to Baghdad on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly, who both arrived in the Iraqi capital on Friday evening, are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Their visit comes as Iraqi forces battle to seize the northern city of Tal Afar from IS following their July victory over the group in second city Mosul.
Speaking on the plane to Baghdad, Le Drian said Iraq faced the dual challenge of "a war that is coming to an end and the beginning of the stabilisation and reconstruction of the country".
The ministers will also meet Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani in Arbil, where they are to echo calls by Pentagon chief Jim Mattis for the postponement of next month's independence referendum.
France is a key member of a coalition backing Iraqi forces in their campaign to retake vast tracts of Iraq that the jihadists grabbed in a 2014 offensive.
French forces have carried out air and artillery strikes in support of Iraqi operations.
"As long as our common enemy has not been eradicated, France will continue to take part" in the campaign, Parly said.
France is keen to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq.
The cost of reconstruction has been estimated at between 590 to 840 billion euros.
The ministers are also set to discuss the fate of a small number of French jihadists captured by Iraqi forces, according to a French diplomatic source.
Paris says up to 700 French nationals are fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq, where around 300 French jihadists have been killed since 2014.
- with AFP