Sarkozy urges Europe to rebuild ties with Iraq

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the first-ever visit by a French head of state to Iraq on Tuesday, seeking to reassert French influence in the country as the United States prepares to draw down its forces. France, which was a key weapons supplier for Iraq during Saddam Hussein's regime, led an international campaign under Sarkozy's predecessor aimed at stopping the 2003 US invasion that overthrew the dictator. Sarkozy, a staunch US ally, seeks to rekindle contacts and trade with the Iraqi government now that security has improved. He urged other European nations to follow his lead and rebuild ties with Iraq. "We want to encourage all European countries to come," he said. "It is in Europe's interest to extend a hand here and to support the peace." Sarkozy was received by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and an honor guard in a televised welcome ceremony held outdoors despite gusty winds in Baghdad.