Iraqi PM visits Germany and Russia, skips France
BAGHDAD, Dec 1 (AFP) - Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi headed Wednesday to Germany and Russia, two countries that opposed last year's invasion, but France - which spearheaded criticism of the US-led war - has been kept off the tour.
The visits – Allawi’s first to Moscow and Berlin since he was appointed as interim prime minister six months ago – will focus on economic issues.
“A large part of our debt is owed to Russia and France, and we have already rallied Germany to our cause after it agreed to forgive nearly all of Iraq’s debt,” Allawi – who is expected in Germany Wednesday – told parliament on Tuesday.
Germany joined the United States to lead efforts last weekend to successfully persuade the Paris Club of creditor nations to agree to wipe out 80 percent of the USD 40 billion (EUR 30 billion) its members are owed by Iraq.
But Iraq’s total debt still reaches “between USD 111 and 127 billion (EUR 83 million and 95 million), more than half of which is owed to Arab countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates”, the premier added.
Some of the debt incurred during Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran during the 1980s is not documented, which explains why there is no definitive figure.
German government spokesman Bela Anda said that the stabilisation of Iraq as well as its reconstruction would also be discussed when Allawi meets Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Friday.
In an interview with German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Allawi said he would not ask Germany to send troops to Iraq, but urged German businesses to aid in reconstruction projects.
Germany, which was one of the most vocal opponents of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, has been helping to train Iraqi police and soldiers in the United Arab Emirates. But it has consistently refused to send any troops into Iraq itself.
Allawi will then visit Russia on December 6-7 to discuss debt as well as oil issues.
“The Russian president (Vladimir Putin) called me and we discussed at length the issue of debt. I am going to Moscow to discuss the issue,” Allawi told deputies before leaving Baghdad.
Iraq’s debt to Russia amounts to about USD 8 billion (EUR 6 billion), and Putin said earlier this month that Moscow was ready to write off 90 percent of the amount.
In exchange, Russia is asking that contracts signed with Saddam’s ousted regime be honoured, including a 1997 deal giving the LUKoil corporation exploitation rights in the 10-billion barrel West Qurna-2 oil reserve.
“The Russians say they are interested in oil concessions and we have no objection to the principle of Russia cooperating with other international companies to increase its oil and gas extraction capacity,” Allawi said.
But Allawi showed no interest in paying a visit to France, the other member of the trio of leading powers that opposed the invasion.
Allawi was irked by French calls to include Iraqi opposition groups in the international conference on the country’s future which Egypt hosted last week in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
It was also displeased at France’s call for the conference to discuss a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.
French President Jacques Chirac had snubbed Allawi at a European summit in Brussels a month ago, following perceived criticism of Paris by the premier, while inviting Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar to Paris.
An editorial in the newspaper of Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord party recently fuelled tensions between the two governments.
The article said that after refusing to send troops to Iraq, France had only itself to blame for the kidnapping of French reporters Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who were abducted by an Islamist organisation in August.
Subject: French News