London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki travels to London this week, heading a large Iraqi delegation that includes Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, and Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, in addition to a large number of Iraqi ministers, officials, and businessmen.
During his official visit to Britain, the Iraqi prime minister will hold consultations with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and these consultations are expected to result in signing a large-scale partnership agreement between the two countries.
Talking to a group of correspondents by satellite yesterday, British Ambassador in Baghdad Christopher Prentice said: “The two prime ministers will sign a partnership declaration. We are currently working to complete negotiations on this declaration, which will affect many aspects of the relationship between the two countries.”
The British ambassador said that Iraqi Trade Minister Abdul-Falah al-Sudani will sign an agreement on economic and technical cooperation with British Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise Peter Mandelson. He noted that this agreement will include provisions on the purchase of British military equipments.
Even though this agreement includes provisions on military cooperation and the purchase of weapons, no announcement is expected on any arms deals at this time.
In the past, Iraq announced that it signed arms contracts with the United States and France.
During his visit to Britain, the Iraqi prime minister is expected to deliver a speech at a conference on investment in Iraq, which is hosted by the British Ministry for International Development. An official of the ministry said yesterday that 500 companies submitted applications to participate in this conference and that approval was given only for 250 companies, due to the shortage of space at the conference site.
The official, who asked not to be named, said these companies, including the oil company Shell and the National Bank of Kuwait, were chosen on the basis of their ability to invent, rather than their identity or the country in which they are based.
Britain, which has invested 740 million Pounds Sterling in Iraq since the 2003 war, hopes that the conference will contribute to strengthening the Iraqi economy, which continues to suffer inflation and high unemployment rates.
The British official said the recent wave of bombings in Iraq will not affect the conference or investors’ desire to invest in Iraq. He added that foreign companies currently have a negative picture of the situation, but there is an opportunity to improve this picture.
In the past, Britain focused its attention on Basra where its forces have been deployed since the 2003 war. In the fall of 2007, the British prime minister set up the Basra Development Commission, chaired by Michael Wareing. Currently, however, the British prime minister’s government seeks to expand economic activities in all parts of the country.
The one-day investment conference, which will be held on Thursday, will involve discussions on various sectors in different parts of Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki focuses on education in Iraq. He is expected to visit the British Council to discuss ways of cooperation with the council and increase the number of the scholarships that the Iraqi Government offers to Iraqi students in Britain.
Al-Maliki will also visit the British National Library.
Ambassador Prentice said yesterday that the visiting delegation will work to advance cooperation on education forward and improve cultural exchange between the two countries.
The British ambassador added that Iraq and the United Kingdom are close to signing a military agreement to regulate military relations between the two countries after the British combat forces end their deployment in Iraq.
The agreement will include details of the military cooperation between the two countries and training of Iraqi officers, in addition to Britain’s assistance to the Iraqi Interior and Defense Ministries by training their civilian and security cadre members.
After concluding his visit to Britain, Prime Minister Al-Maliki is scheduled to leave for Paris.
Ali al-Dabbagh, official spokesman of the Iraqi Government, said in a statement that Al-Maliki will begin an official visit to France on Monday. He added that, during the visit, Al-Maliki will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon. He noted that this will be the first visit of its kind by an Iraqi prime minister to France.
The Iraqi spokesman said the visit will serve as a great opportunity to develop relations between the two countries in all spheres.