This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The situation in Afghanistan overshadowed a summit in Baghdad of key regional leaders and French President Emmanuel Macron, who vowed his country would stand firm in Iraq.
“Given the geopolitical events, this conference has taken a special turn,” Macron said at the summit on August 28.
The summit came two days after the Islamic State-Khorasan claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a gate to Kabul’s airport that killed scores of people, including 13 members of the U.S. military.
Macron said Islamic State (IS) remains a threat and, “We all know that we must not lower our guard.”
He said France would continue to deploy troops in Iraq to battle terrorism even if the United States were to withdraw.
“No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism,” Macron told a news conference in Baghdad.
Macron met earlier with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who described Iraq and France as “key partners in the war against terrorism.”
Macron and al-Kadhemi want to reduce regional tension by fostering dialogue, including on security, a French presidential source was quoted as saying by Reuters. “The aim is to initiate something here and to continue [it] after this conference,” the source said.
Iraq has been seeking to play a “unifying role” to tackle crises shaking the region, sources close to al-Kadhemi have said.
Earlier this year, the country hosted several rounds of direct talks between archenemies Saudi Arabia and Iran, with mid-level officials discussing issues related to Yemen and Lebanon, according to Iraqi officials.
Iran and Saudi Arabia were represented at the Baghdad summit by their foreign ministers. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II also attended the summit along with the rulers of Qatar, Dubai, and Kuwait.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian met his counterparts from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, officials from the two Gulf Arab states said but provided no further details.
There was no indication of any direct meetings between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but Iraq said the talks between the two countries, which began in April, were continuing.
The Kabul suicide blast came during the final days of US-led evacuations from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country earlier this month.
France has held preliminary discussions with the Taliban about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the possible evacuation of more people from the country, Macron said.
He said France was also discussing with Qatar how it might reestablish a pathway for Afghan evacuations.
U.S. military’s evacuation concluded just before August 31, a deadline set by President Joe Biden.
The French government has finished its evacuation operation but will continue to help those who needed protection to leave Afghanistan.
Macron also met separately with Qatar’s emir on a possible role for Doha, which has good contacts with Taliban, in organizing further evacuations beyond an August 31 deadline set by Washington.
France was part of a U.S.-led coalition established to battle IS after it announced a “caliphate” in territory seized in Iraq and Syria in 2014. It has around 800 troops deployed in Iraq.
Baghdad declared IS territorially defeated in December 2017, but the group still retains sleeper cells and continues to claim responsibility for attacks.
Washington currently has 2,500 troops deployed in Iraq.
President Joe Biden said in July that U.S. combat operations in Iraq would end this year, but said soldiers would continue to train, advise, and support Iraq’s military in the fight against IS.