Iraqi prime minister seeks German investment

aleqm5gem3mzgv02t-srrhrigp_gb0zyha.jpgBy GEIR MOULSON –

BERLIN (AP) — Iraq’s prime minister said Tuesday that improved security means his country is now ready to welcome foreign firms, using a trip to Germany to encourage investment from Europe’s biggest economy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the two-day visit by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered “the possibility to open a new chapter in relations” between Berlin and oil-rich Iraq.

Germany vehemently opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, but has since helped the nation try to rebuild its security forces and develop its economy.aleqm5grbfvilbe7iejpiv9gzlxocfpixg.jpg

Al-Maliki touted the recent improvement in security in Iraq as he stressed that the country is open to foreign investment.

“We will be proud to welcome German firms in rebuilding the country — in the steel sector, for example, or cement, and in all other areas,” he told reporters through an interpreter after meeting Merkel.

“I think all the obstacles that existed until now have been cleared away, and we are very much ready to deal with all that remains in terms of difficulties” for firms that want to invest, he added.

Merkel said she had pointed to the possibility of drawing up “packages in which we can share in Iraq’s raw materials, and on the other side make technological know-how available to Iraq.”

She said she had offered Iraq help as it moves toward an increasingly federal system. As a highly federalized country, she said, Germany could offer its experience and advice on “what freedoms the individual regions have.”aleqm5isbvexookejg_r8pjuxsetegeoww.jpg

Al-Maliki said that “the question of education is enormously important to us,” and that Iraq is asking Germany to set up an Iraqi-German university in Iraq.

Germany already has an embassy in Baghdad, but the Foreign Ministry said Monday that it also expects to open a consulate in Irbil, in the Kurdish-controlled north, next year.

However, Merkel sounded a note of caution on the idea of sending in German employees, arguing that Iraqis could work under German supervision.

The foreign business chief of Germany’s DIHK trade organization said before Tuesday’s meeting that German businesses see tremendous potential in Iraq — an important trading partner in the 1960s and 1970s.

“German exporters in the past year had some $507 million turnover in business with Iraq,” Nitschke was quoted as saying by the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper. “We expect double-digit growth over the next year.”

However, Nitschke said that Germans in Iraq still face a “very high” risk.

Al-Maliki insisted that “we are now in a position to take the question of security in hand ourselves.”

He did not mention the future of U.S. troops in Iraq. Iraqi officials have offered support for the idea of pulling all U.S. combat forces out of the war zone by 2010, but have stopped short of giving actual timetables.

Al-Maliki also did not allude directly to Germany’s efforts to seek European Union nations’ backing to accept more Christian refugees from Iraq.

However, he pledged that “there is no discrimination between Christians and Muslims” and said that “we will do our best so that Christians also return to Iraq.”