Amid Terror Attack, Hollande Visits Iraq

Francois Hollande (R) is greeted by his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Masum upon his arrival at the presidential palace in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 2, 2017.Francois Hollande (R) is greeted by his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Masum upon his arrival at the presidential palace in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 2, 2017.

President Francois Hollande flew into Iraq on Monday and told French troops stationed there he was hoping for “a year of victory against terrorism”.

The Socialist president, whose country has faced a series of militant attacks in the past two years, said the soldiers serving in a US-led coalition were preventing more mass killings at home, Reuters reported.

“Everything that contributes to reconstructing Iraq is an additional step to avoiding Daesh strikes on our own territory,” Hollande said, using an Arabic acronym for the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group.

Hollande has seen his popularity rating plummet since taking office, amid frustration over his handling of the economy and national security. He has said he will not stand again in presidential elections this year.

He will travel later on Monday to the Kurdish city of Erbil, where France will deliver some 38 tons of humanitarian aid, including medicine, officials said.

The French president, who is travelling with Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, will also stop in the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan during his one-day visit.

France is the second-largest contributor to the US-led coalition, which has carried out thousands of airstrikes against the IS group in Iraq and Syria, and provided military equipment, training and advice to Iraqi forces.

Since it joined the coalition in September 2014, French aircraft have conducted 5,700 sorties, around 1,000 strikes and destroyed more than 1,700 targets, according to defense ministry figures.

France has stationed 14 Rafale fighter jets in Jordan and the UAE that are taking part in coalition operations.

It also has 500 soldiers training and advising elite Iraqi forces and Caesar artillery vehicles stationed south of Mosul to provide support for the ongoing operations to retake the city.

Car Bomb Hits Baghdad

At least 33 people were killed and 48 wounded in a car bomb attack on a busy square in Baghdad’s sprawling Sadr City, police and medical sources said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s attack but the self-styled Islamic State group regularly targets civilian areas in the heavily-fortified capital.

Three bombs killed 29 people across the city on Saturday. An attack near the southern city of Najaf on Sunday left seven policemen dead.

IS militants attacked a police checkpoint near the southern Iraqi city of Najaf on Sunday, killing seven policemen and wounding 17 others, including civilians, local police sources said.

The IS claimed the attack in a statement distributed online by supporters. It said four gunmen had opened fire before detonating explosive vests and then a fifth assailant launched a suicide car bomb.

US-backed Iraqi forces are currently fighting to push IS fighters from the northern city of Mosul, the armed group’s last major stronghold in the country, but are facing fierce resistance.

Since the offensive began on October 17, elite forces have retaken a quarter of the city in the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

As clashes continued in and around Mosul on Monday, IS also targeted military positions away from the main battlefield.

Fighters attacked an army barracks near Baiji, 180 km north of Baghdad, killing four soldiers and wounding 12 people, including Sunni tribal fighters, army and police sources said.

In a separate incident, gunmen broke into a village near Udhaim, 90 km north of Baghdad, where they executed nine Sunni tribal fighters with shots to the head, police and medical sources said.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the group would be driven out of the country by April.



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