Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat – British Ambassador in Baghdad Christopher Prentice has expressed his hope of reaching a final agreement about the nature of the bilateral security agreement with the Iraqi side by the end of this month so as to complete the series of agreements between the two countries which define their relationship following the British forces’ withdrawal from Iraq. Prentice said these agreements are broader than the ones the United Kingdom had signed with any other country.
Speaking in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Baghdad, the British ambassador said: “We will reach agreement specifically at the end of this month and we will focus basically on the future training of Iraqi forces. We will turn our military relations into normal ones without the presence of combat forces.” He pointed out that the new agreement is about training the Iraqi naval forces and some Iraqi officers and providing support and protection for the Iraqi oil installations in the south, specifically in the northern part of the Arabian Gulf, and stressed it is a clear and open agreement.
On the possibility of the British side equipping the Iraqi forces with weapons and equipment, he said: “We consider the question of selling equipment and weapons associated with the Defense Ministry normal trade deals. This clause was included in the joint economic and technical cooperation agreement that was recently signed with Iraq in London. The security agreement does not have a clause about providing weapons.” He added: “Our present aim is toward building partnership relations with Iraq and there is good progress in this and toward moving from the military presence to normal relations between the two countries. A partnership, cooperation, and friendship agreement was signed during Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s visit to London and it coincided with the ceremonies of stopping the military operations in Basra.” He added that the “invest in Iraq” conference which was held in the British capital last week “is the result of efforts that lasted one whole year to provide investment opportunities in the Iraq of 2009.”
On his part, Matt Wells, the British Embassy’s economic adviser, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the most important achievement at the investment conference in London was the large size of participants. There were270 international delegations and also 170 international companies. He added “we were unable to receive 300 other figures due to lack of space. This was something positive. There were discussions of all the sectors over two days and there was much enthusiasm among businessmen about investing in Iraq after the improvement in its security situations. It was also decided to start direct flights by (BMI) airlines between London and Baghdad.” But he noted that “Iraq needs a decision from the airline to start these flights and we are trying to facilitate this matter.”
As to the existence of similar agreements that the United Kingdom had signed with other countries, Prentice said that his country has several agreements with many countries like Egypt and Libya but they differ from the one concluded with Iraq. The latter is much broader than any other agreement and it includes several fields and partnership in all sectors and also has many details. He added: “We do not have a similar agreement with another country and it can be described as exceptional to explain the magnitude of cooperation with Iraq and the increase in investments which were frozen during the past years due to the security situations.”
Regarding the British investors’ demands from their government and also from the Iraqi one and the guarantees they need, Prentice said: “The Iraqi Government went to London to present a message and to listen to the others and what they are demanding. The government did in fact listen to several demands from Iraqi and foreign investors about changing some laws, in particular the ownership right law. The Iraqi Government responded to these demands and stressed that it was preparing to improve this law so as to attract the investors under the investment law.” He added that “the Iraqi investor himself wants this clause changed because he is trying to have a strategic foreign investor and it will be difficult to achieve this if the right to own the land is withheld. I am expecting the Iraqi Government to accommodate these wishes. There would almost be a loss of confidence in the Iraqi Government if a second conference was held and the same demands were made because it is capable of achieving the reasonable and possible demands.”
Regarding the guarantees demanded by the British investor, he said that the “British Government’s Export Credits Guarantee Department will undertake a review and present its findings to it so as to have the final result about the nature of these guarantees and give confidence to the foreign investors who are worried and apprehensive about investing their funds in Iraq and this specifically concerns the security aspect.” He added: “This issue was raised at the conference and Iraq’s officials presented a complete picture of the country’s security map and the result is that keeping the level of violence at this level will be encouraging for investment. Our advice to the foreign investor is to be cautious when arriving in Iraq until he has encouraging contracts.”
The economic adviser noted that “British companies have presented more than 100 applications to operate in Iraq and they sent them to our embassy. Some applications were positive. There were 20 missions in Basra which sought to invest in Iraq capitals reaching $10 billion. We are encouraging investment in Iraq by providing clear evidence of investment projects that had actually happened in this country.”