Macron visits Lebanon and Iraq, meets Syriac Maronite leaders, Syriac Chaldean Patriarch attends banquet in Macron’s honor

BEIRUT, BAGHDAD – French President Emmanuel Macron was on a diplomatic tour through the Middle East this week. His tour began on 31 August in crisis-hit Lebanon where France, after the port explosion of 4 August, has tried to reassert its former role of mandate holder and financier, and has pushed to form a new government of technocrats to reduce sectarian role in Lebanese politics.

In his two visits to Lebanon he met with Syriac Maronite President Michel Aoun and other Syriac Maronite officials and leaders. On this second visit, Macron also met with legendary Syriac Lebanese singer Fairuz – whose family is originally from Mardin in Turkey.

Macron reeled in a first success by the nomination of independent candidate Mustapha Adib to become the new Lebanese Prime Minister. Except for the Lebanese Forces party led by Syriac Maronite Samir Geegea, Adib’s nomination was endorsed by all important Lebanese political parties including the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni Future Movement led by Saad Hariri.

In Baghdad, His Holiness Syriac Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako attended a banquet in honour of visiting President Emmanuel Macron. The banquet this Wednesday was hosted by the President of the federal Republic of Iraq Barham Salih and attended by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq Nechirvan Barzani, and judicial and senior officials.

France is militarily present in Iraq as part of the International Coalition against ISIS. President Macron discussed mostly matters of Iraqi sovereignty and bilateral relations. Macron told reporters that the “fight for Iraq’s sovereignty is essential.”

Where Turkey has invaded northern Iraq in what it says is solely a military operation against the Kurdish PKK, which Turkey designates a terrorist organization, Macron’s remarks about Iraqi sovereignty might hence be interpreted as an indirect message to Turkey. France is at loggerheads with Turkey in the Mediterranean where tensions between NATO-members Turkey and Greece have reached a boiling point and France supports Greece. France and Turkey also oppose each other in the Libya and support different sides in the Libyan conflict.

Macron is pushing for an assertive role for France in the Middle East. Through instable and crisis-hit Lebanon and Iraq, France is (re-)positioning itself as mediator and make Middle-eastern countries look to France for diplomatic mediation. Through Lebanese Iran-proxy Hezbollah and Shiite Iraq, France can focus and signal Iran. Both Lebanon and Iraq have diplomatic relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

With this latest diplomatic push France is imposing itself in an already very crowded political minefield of super-powers Russia and the US and regional powers Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.