Belgian FM urges reconstruction on Iraq visit

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Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht urged greater participation in the reconstruction of war-torn Iraq, after flying in on Wednesday on the first visit by a senior official from Belgium since 1990.

BAGHDAD - De Gucht met with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Human Rights Minister Wejdane Mikhail to discuss security and reconstruction six years after the US-led invasion.

"Belgium can play a role in reconstruction," De Gucht said at a press briefing in the capital, adding that his country was a leader in the construction of bridges.

With Zebari by his side, De Gucht also announced that Brussels and Baghdad had signed a deal for the construction of 13 water treatment plants in the Iraqi capital.

Zebari hailed De Gucht's previously unannounced visit and called on Belgian companies to overcome their fear of violence and to take "calculated risks."

"We discussed the need for Belgian companies to play a more active role in our country, and we have witnessed reluctant countries coming in, such as France, Germany, to start to work on some strategic projects," he said.

De Gucht is expected to travel on Thursday to Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

Belgium closed its embassy after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's army invaded Kuwait in 1990. The EU nation still has no diplomatic representation in Baghdad but a charge d'affaires operates from Amman.

Brussels, along with Paris, Berlin and Moscow, was a vigorous opponent of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam.

In November 2005, a Belgian woman who converted to Islam became the first European to carry out a suicide bombing in Iraq. The attack near Baghdad caused no other casualties.


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