French prez Nicolas Sarkozy, whose predecessor led international opposition to the Iraq war, paid a surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday in an attempt to raise his country's profile in the region. Sarkozy met with PM Nouri al-Maliki, who used a joint news conference to slap at recent US pressure to reach political reconciliation. "The time for putting pressure on Iraq is over," said Maliki, who added he wanted to strengthen his ties to other Western powers.
Sarkozy's overture to the Iraqi leadership comes as the world's major oil companies, including the French giant Total, are angling for contracts in Iraq. After his meeting, Sarkozy told reporters that a delegation of French corporate leaders would visit Iraq in the coming weeks. Maliki noted that France has a history of business involvement dating back to the Saddam Hussein era.