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IRAQ

German firms take a fresh look at Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and German bosses have a dinner date Tuesday following a visit this month by Economy Minister Michael Glos to Baghdad, signifying that German-Iraqi trade is back in business.

Iraq was historically a strong partner for Germany, and in the 1980s bilateral trade reached €4 billion ($6.4 billion) a year.

But by last year, Germany only exported goods worth a total of €319 million to the war-ravaged country.

German companies have always been eager to work with a country that has ample oil reserves and where reconstruction programmes offer major contracts for makers of machine tools and industrial facilities, two German specialities.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was to receive Maliki on Tuesday, has expressed strong interest in developing economic and business ties and German companies are chomping at the bit.

Eckart von Unger, director of the Africa and Middle East department at the German industrial federation BDI, told the business daily Handelsblatt: “In the near future, we hope Iraq will again hit four billion euros, like in the good old days.”

For now however, while many German companies have expressed interest in working in Iraq, few have taken the next steps.

Wintershall, a unit of the chemical giant BASF, is one of the few to actively seek contracts, in its case a license for oil drilling.

A BDI spokesman acknowledged that “we cannot say how many German companies are currently active in Iraq.”

Insecurity, corruption and poor infrastructure are obstacles to many.

“The risks to Germans working there is still very high,” said Axel Nitschke, head of the German chamber of commerce DIHK’s external trade department, in comments to the Neue Passauer Presse newspaper.

But both countries are working on improving the situation.

In June, a German-Iraqi economic commission was resucitated and met here for the first time since 1987, under the oversight of Glos and Iraqi Industry Minister Fawzi al-Hariri.

Six weeks later, Glos flew to Iraq along with a sizeable German business delegation.

He was the first member of the government to make the trip since 2003.

On Tuesday, the Arab-German chamber of commerce and industry Ghorfa is organizing the dinner with Maliki and “around 100 business leaders, particularly heads of small- and medium-sized enterprises,” the group said.

In Iraq as well, interest in bigger contacts with Germany is keen.

Baghdad has pressed Berlin to abandon its official warning against travel in the still volatile Middle Eastern nation.

“It handicaps economic development, the German government should allow German companies to decide for themselves if they want to go to Iraq,” Hariri said last month during a visit to the German capital.

“In the end, it only results in Germans losing contracts, while Iraq, where German products have a good reputation, buys machines from China, Korea or eastern Europe,” he added.

Eckhart von Klaeden, foreign affairs spokesman for the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) group, said German firms should begin getting back to Iraq step-by-step.

“We need to begin by going where it is relatively safe,” such as in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq.

“As more regions become prosperous, they will set an example for the most dangerous ones and a virtuous circle will take over,” he forecast.

ARMY

Update: Germany withdraws some troops from Iraq as tensions soar

Germany on Tuesday said it had temporarily withdrawn some of its troops deployed as part of the anti-IS coalition in Iraq, in the latest fallout over the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general.

Update: Germany withdraws some troops from Iraq as tensions soar
Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer during a visit to Iraq in August 2019. Photo: DPA

A total of 32 German soldiers based in Camp Taji near Baghdad were flown by a military transporter A400m to the al-Azraq airforce base in Jordan, the German military said in a statement.

Three German soldiers stationed in Baghdad, the headquarters of the coalition fighting against the Islamic State jihadist group, were transferred to Kuwait.

“These troops can be brought back at any time if the training in Iraq is to resume,” the statement added.

“The safety of our soldiers remains a top priority.

Germany has deployed about 415 soldiers from its Bundeswehr (army) as part of the anti-IS coalition, with about 120 of its troops stationed in Iraq.

The move came after the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution asking the government to end its agreement with the US-led coalition.

A hugely popular figure in the Islamic republic, Qasem Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on Friday in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed “severe revenge”.

On Tuesday, Iranian lawmakers voted to designate all US forces around the world “terrorists” over Soleimani's killing.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said late on Monday the basis for the Germany military presence in Iraq is “that we have an invitation from the Iraqi government and parliament.”

“If that is no longer the case… then the legal basis for us to be there is missing. We have to clarify this with those responsible in Baghdad as soon as possible.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had in a joint statement on Sunday urged Iraq to not jeopardize a battle against IS jihadists.

“Preserving the (anti-IS) coalition is of great importance in this context.

“We call on the Iraqi authorities to continue to provide the coalition with the necessary support,” they said.

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