French FM says security improving in Iraq

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aleqm5jzjmh22kqszzkc6gebi6f_ju-pza.jpgBAGHDAD (AFP) — French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Sunday that the security situation in Iraq was improving and reaffirmed France’s willingness to help rebuild the war-ravaged country.

“I have the feeling that things are better. Statistics show a drop in security incidents,” Kouchner told AFP after a working lunch with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari on the last day of his two-day visit to Iraq.

There is “an improvement in the situation in Iraq,” he said.

Kouchner also voiced satisfaction at efforts by the Iraqis to take charge of their own country, saying they were making “progress.”

“The Iraqis themselves, with their army, their administration, are taking charge of their own problems,” Kouchner said.

He then went to Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, to open a French representative office before wrapping up his visit.

Kouchner arrived from neighbouring Jordan on Saturday on an unannounced trip which he said was aimed at underlining Paris’s “renewed political commitment” to Iraq.

He had separate meetings with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and also met the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and leading Christian cleric Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly.

Kouchner told a news conference his meeting with Maliki “went well” and that “some (development) projects have been proposed to France.

“We will see if our industrialists can bring answers,” Kouchner said.

Zebari insisted that “it is urgent that France takes part in the reconstruction of Iraq.”

Kouchner, on his second visit to Iraq since August, said that France wants “to take part in the reconstruction of the country.”

He also confirmed that France, which under former president Jacques Chirac strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq, was examining the cases of 500 Iraqis, including Christians, who wish to move to France.

Earlier on Sunday, two people were killed and five were wounded in a car bombing in Baghdad just outside the Green Zone which houses the Iraqi government and the US embassy, as Kouchner was visiting the capital.

But even as the attack occurred the US military and the Iraqi government reported a major drop in the number of deaths for the month of May.

Nineteen US soldiers were killed in Iraq in May, the lowest monthly death toll since the invasion of 2003, the military said. The previous low was in February 2004 when 20 soldiers were killed.

The number of Iraqi civilians and security personnel killed in May also dropped dramatically to 563 compared with at least 1,073 dead in April and 1,082 in March, the Iraqi defence, interior and health ministries reported