ROME: There will be no stability in the Middle East “without a strong Iraq,” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said during a visit to the country.

Italy’s first female head of government was speaking to Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani on the sidelines of a meeting in Baghdad, her first bilateral trip outside Europe since taking office in October.

She said: “Iraq is a nation that has taken important steps forward in terms of security and political stability and, in our opinion,it can look to its reconstruction with optimism.

“Italy has always been on the front line in supporting Iraq in every way. There can be no stability and prosperity in the Middle East without a strong Iraq.”

Meloni, who also met Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and Parliament Speaker Mohamed Halbus, described Iraq as “a friend, which has shown that it believes in democracy with the recent formation of its government.”

A source in the Italian premier’s office told Arab News that increased trade links and cooperation in the fields of agriculture and health were the main issues discussed by Meloni and Al-Sudani.

The Iraqi leader also thanked Italy for its role with the international coalition against Daesh, and said his country was keen “to activate partnership and investment paths with Italy and all the countries of the European Union.

“Iraq is ready to supply Italy with what it needs in terms of oil and gas,” Al-Sudani added.

Meloni lauded the Iraqi government’s decision to declare Christmas Day a national holiday. “I consider this as an important sign of great respect for religious freedom.”

During her time in the capital, Meloni made a Christmas visit to representatives of the Italian armed forces deployed in Baghdad as part of the NATO Mission Iraq, currently led by Italy under the command of Gen. Giovanni Maria Iannucci.