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Iraqi PM Maliki in France, seeking investment

Latest update : 2009-05-04

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki arrived in France on Monday - his fist official visit to the nation - to drum up European investment for rebuilding Iraq. He also met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

AFP - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Monday as he tries to drum up European investment for a country seeking recovery after six years of war.

Maliki brought several Iraqi ministers on his first official visit to France, which opposed the 2003 US invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein, and they were keen to play down fears of a new upswing in violence.

April was the bloodiest month in Iraq since September 2008: 355 Iraqis and 18 American soldiers were killed in various violent attacks, casting a pall over Maliki's attempts to convince Europeans it is now safe to invest.

"What happened in recent times does not call into doubt the stabilisation process. There's no question of returning to the situation we had two years ago," Maliki told an audience of French diplomats and journalists.

He blamed recent bomb attacks on "defeated factions who are carrying out limited operations" and said France should join the countries that, "having banned their companies from Iraq, are now encouraging them to come."

"Iraq is no longer a threat to international peace. We would like the international community to support us," he said.

Last month, during a visit to Paris, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi said French oil giant Total had been invited to bid to develop two major oil fields in southern Iraq.

In February, Electricity Minister Karim Wahid said Paris had been asked to help Iraq build a nuclear power plant, three decades after Israeli jets destroyed an Iraqi reactor France had built for Saddam.

Iraq has also ordered French-built helicopters for its armed forces, and Baghdad has made it clear that it wants as much French investment as possible to boost its reconstruction campaign.

Under Saddam, who maintained a luxury villa on the French Riviera, there were close ties between French and Iraqi business and political circles.

As prime minister, Jacques Chirac cultivated a special relationship with Iraq during the 1970s. As French president two decades later, he opposed the US-led invasion.

Saddam's opponents, now installed as his successors, might once have been suspicious of France because of these former ties but are now trying to build normal relations with Paris and other European powers.

This rapprochement has been made more urgent by the world economic crisis.

Prices for oil have dropped from above 145 dollars a barrel in March 2008, to around 50 dollars a barrel, putting severe pressure on Iraq's annual budget, which is projected to get 86 percent of its revenue from oil.

Before coming to France, Maliki and his entourage visited London, where they made a similar appeal for investment.

According to Iraqi officials, Total, France's largest and most profitable firm, had forged a partnership with US giant Chevron, and has been asked to bid for a contract to exploit the Nahr Bin Umar oil field.

The officials said the amount of investment needed by the Total-Chevron partnership has not yet been decided, but that a figure in the region of 15 billion dollars had been discussed.

The vice president's delegation said the fields in which Total was most interested had the potential to produce more than one million barrels of crude per day over a 14-year period.

Total has not commented on the potential deal.

Date created : 2009-05-04