France and Iraq reach a global strategic corporate alliance

The two countries have signed a treaty that aims to strengthen bilateral relations in security, renewable energy, anti-corruption and culture
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PHOTO/AP/AURELIEN MORISSARD  -   French President Emmanuel Macron, left, welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudan, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, at the Elysee Palace in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani in Paris, where the two leaders signed a series of strategic agreements aimed at strengthening economic cooperation between the two nations. During the meeting, the two countries signed an agreement aimed at strengthening bilateral relations in areas such as anti-corruption, security, renewable energy and culture, the Elysee Palace confirmed. "The summit discussed the bilateral relations of the two countries, some regional and international issues of common interest and joint cooperation documents in some important fields," the Iraqi news agency said.  

Iraqi Minister Al-Sudani is looking for partners to help rebuild Iraq's energy sector. The AFP agency - quoting the minister before his meeting with Macron - notes that cooperation in the field of energy and security between Baghdad and Iraq is of great importance. The situation in the Middle Eastern country is critical due to decades of war and conflict. Iraq suffers from a severe electricity shortage despite being an oil-rich country, among other problems, due to the high level of political corruption. To compensate for the lack of electricity, homes must be cut off for four to 10 hours a day, even in the middle of summer, so residents rely on private generators, which most Iraqis cannot afford. 

PHOTO/REUTERS/STEPHANE MAHE - French oil and gas company TotalEnergies logo

In 2021, French company TotalEnergies signed a $10 billion contract with Iraq, but despite Baghdad's efforts to restore its power grid, difficulties have hampered implementation. The deal with the French giant includes the construction of facilities to collect and process gas extracted from crude oil used to generate electricity, and plans to build a solar power plant in southern Iraq. The company's CEO, Patrick Pouyanne, told investors after the deal was announced that Iraq was a key focus for TotalEnergies in the Middle East and added that the deal was a win-win and would pay for it through the sale of Ratawi oil. 

Al-Sudani, on the other hand, expressed hope for security, indicating that they expect cooperation between the two countries in the field of security, especially in training and developing Iraq's security capabilities, as well as in the procurement of weapons. 

Macron has visited Iraq twice since the start of his first term in 2017. In December 2022, at a regional meeting in support of Iraq, Macron urged Baghdad to take a different path from the 'externally led model'. Al-Sudani's government, which has regained confidence after a year of political conflict, is supported by the pro-Iranian parties that dominate parliament. Baghdad is also heavily dependent on gas and electricity from neighbouring Tehran. Before arriving in Paris, the Iraqi minister published an article in the French daily Le Monde, stressing that his government is trying to establish balanced relations with other countries and steer clear of "Axis politics". 

PHOTO/AFP/MOHAMMED SAWAF - Oil refinery in the central Iraqi city of Karbala on the day of its inauguration on 20 October 2022

"The current Iraqi government is more confident in its vision of developing Iraq's regional and international relations based on cooperation and balance through a policy of partnership with many countries of the world, starting with France," he said. This is where Qatar comes in. The Gulf state has enough open channels with the Irans and the West that it would be easy to secure part of the French agreement, which has not yet been implemented. French and Qatari energy companies work closely together in Qatar's large LNG production sector, as well as on major energy projects around the world. Tensions between France, which has considerable influence in Iraq, and Iran in particular, could prompt loyalist parties to block the deal and hand it over to other powers such as Qatar.