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France's Hollande hopes for 'year of victory against terrorism' during Iraq visit

The French president has arrived in Iraq to visit with troops taking part in a US-led coalition against the militant "Islamic State" group. A suicide bomber struck a Baghdad suburb as Hollande met with Iraqi leaders.

French President Francois Hollande began a one-day official visit to Iraq on Monday, meeting with French troops and local officials to discuss the fight against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group.

Hollande urged that supporting military operations against IS in Iraq is key to preventing terror attacks back in France.

"Taking action against terrorism here in Iraq is also preventing acts of terrorism on our own soil," he said during a visit to a base near Baghdad where French forces are helping to train Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service.

He also told troops that he hoped for "a year of victory against terrorism."

His comments come amidst fears that IS territory losses in Iraq and Syria will prompt terror attacks back in Europe as former IS fighters return home. Over the past two years, France has suffered multiple terrorist attacks claimed by IS.

Hollande, who is traveling with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, met separately with Iraqi President Fuad Masum (pictured above left) and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Later on Monday, he will travel to the country's self-governing northern Kurdish region to meet with local officials and French troops.

France is a large contributor to the US-led coalition against IS that has carried out thousands of airstrikes against the militant group in Iraq and Syria. It has also provided military equipment and training to Iraqi troops.

The coalition formed in 2014 to fight the extremist group after it seized large areas in Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic "caliphate."

Irak Besuch Francois Hollande, Präsident Frankreich (Reuters/C. Ena)

Hollande met with French troops at a base outside Baghdad on Monday

Bomb blast in Baghdad

As Hollande met with Iraqi leaders, a suicide car bomb attack in a densely populated neighborhood of Baghdad killed several people and left dozens wounded.

According to an interior ministry official 35 people were killed and 65 injured. A police officer said the attacker drove a pickup truck, targeting an outdoor fruit and vegetable market where many daily laborers were waiting for jobs.

The "Islamic State" (IS) militant group later claimed responsibility. At least 27 people were killed in multiple explosions across Baghdad on Saturday.

Watch video 01:17

Twin blasts rock Baghdad market (31.12.16)

France calls on Russia to respect ceasefire

Back in France, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called on Russia to stop military action in Syria and respect a fragile nationwide ceasefire.

"We resolutely condemn everything Russia could do in Syria that would contribute to a continuation of fighting," Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on France Inter radio on Monday.

The latest nationwide truce deal, brokered by Russia and Turkey, has been repeatedly violated since it began on Friday with government and rebels trading blame.

"We ask the Russians to stop taking part in military operations which are deadly operations," Cazeneuve added, without naming specific military actions.

Russia entered the conflict in September 2015 in a bid to bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key regional ally.

rs, ksb/kms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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