German FM in Iraq as Europe joins rebuilding effort

17th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Germany’s foreign minister traveled to Baghdad, saying Berlin wants to help in the reconstruction of the war-battered but oil-rich country.

Baghdad -- Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met Iraqi leaders during a surprise visit to Baghdad on Tuesday, as European opponents of the US-led invasion joined efforts to rebuild the nation.

Steinmeier, on the first visit to Baghdad by a German foreign minister in two decades, held talks with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani before going into a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari.

He traveled to Baghdad saying Berlin wants to help in the reconstruction of the war-battered but oil-rich country.

His trip comes in the footsteps of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who last week made the first visit to post-Saddam Iraq by a European leader of a state that refused to join Britain in the US-led military coalition.

"The Iraqi government has achieved important successes in stabilizing the country in recent months," Steinmeier told reporters before leaving for Iraq, where his movements were under tight security despite lower levels of violence. "Germany wants to assist Iraq in reconstruction."

Steinmeier was accompanied by a business delegation and was to travel on to Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, to open a German consulate.

In Berlin, the economy ministry announced plans to open an economic information office in Baghdad, with a branch in Arbil, to help German firms do business in Iraq.

The aim is "to revive economic relations between Germany and Iraq that were strong in the past," said Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Maliki travelled to Germany last July shortly after then trade minister Michael Glos visited Iraq and an agreement was signed to protect the two countries' investments.

German car manufacturer Daimler AG has raised the possibility of building a parts factory for heavy vehicles in Iraq.

German diplomats said in late 2008 that the foreign minister would visit Iraq as a sign of support for American President Barack Obama, who took office last month after vowing to accelerate a troop withdrawal.

Like France, Germany opposed the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. Both were accused of opposing the invasion because of their lucrative trade deal with Saddam's Iraq.

Steinmeier, whose country became an economic powerhouse after emerging from the ashes of World War II, is the first German foreign minister to visit Baghdad since 1987.

That visit came three years before UN economic sanctions were slapped on Iraq over Saddam's invasion of neighboring Kuwait.

Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper, quoting German diplomats, said in November that a Steinmeier visit would "finally normalize relations" with Iraq and "send a signal the German government supports the Obama policy for the Middle East."

Maliki, in an interview with Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper published on Tuesday, invited German companies to invest in the new Iraq, regardless of their stand on the invasion.

According to the premier's office, he told another German newspaper: "This is a good time for foreign investments in Iraq."

In December, Iraq signed a two billion dollar contract with the German company Siemens to build 16 electricity units in five plants with a total capacity of 3,200 megawatts to be installed across the country by spring 2010.

However, in 2005 Iraq's interior ministry criticized the training of Iraqi police recruits by German experts in the United Arab Emirates and called off their participation in the program, saying it was ineffective.

Haro Chakmakjian/AFP/Expatica

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