Iraq’s president is on a two-day visit to France with a focus on the country’s security and the fight against the Islamic State group in the region.
Barham Saleh has a working lunch Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron, followed by a joint news conference. They are expected to discuss the issue of French citizens who traveled to fight with IS in Iraq and Syria and are now being detained by the U.S.-led coalition’s forces.
An intelligence official said the Iraqi government has 13 French IS militants in custody after they were transferred from Syria to Iraq a month ago. An Iraqi security official confirmed the report Monday and said the militants will be put on trial for crimes committed inside Iraq.
There were no details on their identities. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The U.S. has called for countries to take back and try their own nationals. France’s official position states that French “terrorist” fighters “must be tried wherever they committed their crimes,” according to the French foreign affairs ministry. France considers the Iraqi legal authorities are in charge of handling the cases of IS members on their territory.
The issue of captured foreign fighters in Syria poses a major conundrum for countries whose nationals have been imprisoned in the country. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces is holding more than 900 foreign fighters in prisons it runs in the country’s north, many of them Iraqis and Europeans.
According to an Iraqi government statement issued Monday, about 280 Iraqi IS militants have been handed over by the SDF to Iraq in two successive batches last week, out of an estimated more than 500.
Also last week, a French diplomatic official and a SDF official said they were trying to verify reports that Fabien Clain, a Frenchman who is one of Europe’s most-wanted members of IS, was killed in an airstrike in Syria.
The French presidency said France intends to reaffirm its full support to Iraq to face challenges regarding security, stability, inclusive governance and the country’s reconstruction.
Both countries also are seeking to strengthen their economic cooperation.
France remains militarily involved in Iraq through training and logistical support of Iraqi forces and intelligence missions.