Iraq's Odious Debts

Iraqi president, starting Europe tour, optimistic about election

September 9, 2004

Iraqi President Ghazi Al-Yawar began a European tour Wednesday in Germany voicing optimism that elections in his country would go ahead by the end of January as scheduled and appealing for more help with debt relief.

“I am grateful to the president for his openness and positive response particularly on the important topic of debt relief and the cancellation of debt,” Yawar told reporters after talks here with President Horst Koehler.

“The economic sector is the most important basis on which to help stabilise the country,” said the Sunni tribal leader, after being welcomed in Berlin with military honours on the first leg of his tour.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whom Yawar meets later Thursday, promised at the Group of Eight summit in June to lower “substantially” Iraq’s debt through the Paris Club of creditor nations.

Germany and France, who both led opposition to the US-led war last year, are believed to want to halve the total 120 billion dollars that Iraq owes.

Schroeder, however, has insisted that German companies must be able to compete for Iraq reconstruction contracts, which were granted only to companies from countries that took part in the war and businesses in Iraq.

Koehler, for his part, said that Germany could bring its weight to bear with the international community to help ease Iraq’s debt burden.

Yawar’s tour, which also takes in Italy, Poland and Belgium, is aimed at rebuilding ties and securing reconstruction aid at a time when instability could undermine the new Iraq’s efforts to hold open, multi-party elections.

But despite a persistent uprising by nationalists, former regime members, Islamists and insurgents, the president said Wednesday that he was optimistic elections could still go ahead.

He said meeting the election deadline is “an inseparable component of firm dates” fixed by the law, Iraq’s interim constitution, and that the government is “working with all its strength to fulfill its obligations.”

Yawar, Iraq’s first president since Saddam Hussein, said that Baghdad was “very interested in close co-operation” with Berlin on humanitarian assistance and help with resurrecting public services and infrastructure.

Germany has already contributed more than 70 million dollars in humanitarian aid since the war broke out in March 2003 and is helping to train the Iraqi police and military abroad.

Iraq and Germany have only renewed diplomatic relations in recent weeks, with both countries assigning ambassadors to their respective capitals, ending a virtual silence between them since the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

Yawar, a US-trained engineer, was named Iraqi president on June 1 after an acrimonious leadership struggle, under the watchful eye of the then US occupying authorities, for what is a largely ceremonial post.

His job is likely to be relatively short term as the parliament, once it is voted in, must draw up a new constitution in 2005.

Yawar, 45, had been scheduled to begin his European tour in the other major opponent of the war, France, but he cancelled that stage due to the hostage taking in Iraq of two French journalists.

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