Monday, February 16

Well golly gee, the Iraq wallflower is becoming the belle of the ball

The Iraqi and French governments have agreed upon the establishment of consulates in Basra and Ninewa, and one large embassy in Baghdad. Not to be outdone by the French, the Iranians are scurrying to do business in Iraq. Amer Mohsen reported on February 11 for Iraq Slogger:
On the heels of Sarkozy’s [February 10] visit, Az-Zaman reports a high-level Iranian delegation arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday – led by Foreign Minister Manushahr Muttaqi, and proposing over $5 billion in commercial deals. The paper also said that the Pakistani President may visit Iraq soon, followed by Syrian and French delegations before the summer.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry about what transpired during President Nicolas Sarkozy's trip to Baghdad last week. I suppose a resigned shrug in the French manner would be the most appropriate response for an American.

After watching Americans sacrifice much blood and treasure in the process of cleaning up Dodge City, France's government deems the coast clear enough to reestablish their 'special' relationship with their dear friends the Iraqis -- who were left to die in droves under Saddam Hussein's regime while the French did big business with him.

All right, Pundita, don't dwell, but I can't help but chuckle at a pointed remark that Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki made to President Sarkozy. More from Amer Mohsen's report:
The visit of French President Nicholas Sarkozy to Baghdad is seen by al-Hayat as heralding a resumption of “the instrumental French role in Iraq.” During the 1970s and 1980s, Ba'thi Iraq held extensive commercial and political relations with Paris, with generous contracts granted to French companies in the fields of infrastructure, oil, energy and industry. France was also the top Western arms exporter to Iraq, and an instrumental partner in the country’s nuclear program (until the bombing of the Iraqi French-made reactor in 1981.)

Al-Hayat quoted the French President as giving “the green light” to French companies to invest in Iraq, confirming that 80% of Baghdad’s debt towards France will be written-off, with the rest transferred into projects that will be managed by French firms in the country. In exchange, Premier Maliki assured the French Presidents that French interests will not face discrimination due to France’s opposition to the 2003 invasion, adding that “French companies will not start from Zero, because they have a long history in Iraq.”

While Sarkozy’s surprise visit constitutes a further step in ending Baghdad’s international isolation, the economic quid-pro-quo involved was quite obvious. An Iraqi official who attended the high-level meetings with the French delegation told al-Hayat that talks focused on three major topics: “oil and energy, how to increase commercial exchanges between the two countries and the furthering of diplomatic relations between Iraq and the EU.”

France reaped significant economic benefits in the Middle East during the years of the Cold War by maintaining political relations with both pro and anti-US regimes. Large civil and military contracts were awarded to French companies by countries like Syria, Libya and Iraq – which relied on France as their only source of Western technology and hardware.

When Iraq, already ruled by the Ba'th, began nationalizing the assets of foreign oil companies in the early 1970s, it made an exception for the French interest in the international oil consortium, citing the “pro-Arab” positions of Gaullist France. [...]
I agree that Iraq shouldn't hold the past against France, but I'm glad that Maliki brought up the subject.

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