Lebanese president makes landmark visit to Iraq



Lebanese President Michel Aoun is seen during a visit to the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad's Karrada neighbourhood on February 20th. [Sabah Arar/AFP]

Lebanese President Michel Aoun led a delegation Tuesday (February 20th) to Iraq, the first visit by a Lebanese head of state, for talks that included ways to eradicate terrorism.

Aoun held talks with Iraqi President Fuad Masum and Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi, before he was due to travel to Armenia on Wednesday.

"We had constructive talks which reflect the historical and brotherly ties that link our two countries and our people," Aoun told a joint news conference with Masum.

"I would like to take advantage of this occasion to congratulate the Iraqi people for their firmness, patience and determination in the face of adversity... and terrorism," he said.

Iraq has been scarred by decades of conflict, from an eight-year war with neighbouring Iran in the 1980s to the still-fresh conflict with the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), which seized swathes of the country in 2014.

In December, al-Abbadi declared "the end of the war" against ISIS and complete control of Iraq's borders with neighbouring Syria, where the group still controls pockets of territory.

Aoun said that Lebanon, too, had suffered from the extremist group, but succeeded in pushing it back from a border region with Syria.

He said Arab states and the international community must build "joint efforts to fight against terrorism in an efficient and radical way, to eliminate them and end the factors that favour terrorist ideology".

Strengthening bilateral relations

With Iraq also looking to raise tens of billions of dollars to help reconstruct the country after the fight against ISIS, Aoun said Lebanese firms "with their extensive expertise" and investors were ready to get involved.

Al-Abbadi said talks had focused on "strengthening bilateral relations in the areas of economy, trade and reconstruction".

Aoun, a Christian, also visited a church in Baghdad where extremists killed 55 worshippers in 2010.

The attack on Our Lady of Salvation church in the capital's main commercial district of Karrada was claimed by the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda.

At the start of the visit, Masum surprised Aoun, a former general and army chief, with a birthday cake decorated with the Lebanese and Iraqi flags. Aoun turned 83 earlier this week.

Aoun was accompanied by cabinet ministers including the ministers of industry, interior and tourism.

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