February 17, 2009

Western European involvement in Iraq's economy may be about to undergo radical transformation, Sebastian Abbot reports for AP.

Germany's foreign minister met with top Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Tuesday in the latest high-level visit by a major Western nation that opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion but has promised to help Iraq rebuild now that security has improved.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier's visit — the first by a German foreign minister since 1987 — comes on the heels of a similar trip by French President Nicolas Sarkozy a week ago. Germany and France were strong opponents of the war that toppled Saddam Hussein but the governments in both countries have changed since 2003 and have sought greater roles in Iraq.

German and French companies could benefit from the change by striking lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts. Iraqi leaders appear eager to shore up their ties with European nations like Germany and France to ease their dependence on the United States.  "The Iraqi government in the past months has achieved important successes in the political stabilization of the country," Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin before departing. "My trip demonstrates that we want to support this new Iraq on its path to democratic consolidation and a peaceful balance between religions and ethnicities."

[...]

One of Germany's initiatives to improve ties with Iraq will be to set up an economic office in Baghdad, with a branch in the northern city of Irbil, said the German Economic Ministry.  "The office will contribute to reviving the once-intensive economic relations between Germany and Iraq," Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said in a statement. "The office also will serve to overcome the economic consequences of the war in Iraq and contribute to the country's economic rebuilding."

Depending on one's perspective, Germany and France are either profiteering from Iraq after the United States and United Kingdom have largely completed the heavy lifting or are stepping in to clean up the mess of a war they vigorously opposed.  Perhaps there's something to both.

Either way, this is welcome news.  Iraq's future depends the influx of wealth from abroad and Germany and France are two of the world's biggest economies.  

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

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