Iraq To Export Oil to Lebanon

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BAGHDAD — Iraq and Lebanon plan to sign a series of trade agreements in coming weeks, including one on Iraq exporting oil to Lebanon, the prime ministers of the two countries said today.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s one-day trip to Baghdad was only the third visit by a senior Arab official since the American-led invasion in 2003.

America has encouraged visits to Iraq by moderate Arab leaders to shore up support for Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government and as a counterweight to influence from Iraq’s fellow Shiite neighbor, Iran.

Iraq is also eager to improve ties with its Arab neighbors, as security improvements boost the government’s confidence.

At a news conference alongside Prime Minister Maliki, Mr. Saniora offered support for Iraq and urged other Arab states to do the same.

“I do believe that Iraq’s return to the Arabs and the Arabs’ return to Iraq is a key goal and we all have to work to achieve it,” he said.

Mr. Maliki said the two countries would sign several agreements, including one outlining Iraqi oil exports to Lebanon, but provided no details. “There were talks about oil, cooperation in the oil industry, oil exports and supplying Lebanon with Iraqi oil according to an agreement,” the Iraqi prime minister said.

Mr. Saniora, who was accompanied by four Cabinet ministers, said the agreements would be signed in coming weeks. He said he found a “strong will from the Iraqi government to start cooperation in this field.”

Iraq sits on the world’s third-largest oil reserves with more than 115 billion barrels, but its oil industry has been battered by decades of war, U.N. sanctions and attacks by insurgents.

The country now produces about 2.5 million barrels of oil per day and the government hopes to produce 4.5 million barrels per day by 2013.

Mr. Saniora’s visit also aimed to renew contact after more than a decade of chilly relations between Beirut and Baghdad. Ties soured in the mid-1990s after Iraqi agents killed a dissident in Beirut.

But Lebanon was still one of the only countries to maintain an embassy in Baghdad over the past five and a half years of war.

Lebanon’s parliamentary majority leader, Saad Hariri, visited Iraq last month, followed by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, the first Arab head of state to fly to Baghdad since 2003.

During his visit, Abdullah also urged Arab governments to extend a hand to the Shiite-led Iraqi government. Jordan receives discounted oil from Iraq.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Saniora would also visit the southern city of Najaf to meet Iraq’s Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. One official said such a visit was planned, but later the same person said it was uncertain if the ayatollah would be available.

Some figures in Lebanon’s powerful Shiite militia Hezbollah have close personal ties with the religious hierarchy at Najaf, and some Lebanese Shiites trace their family origins back to what is now Iraq.

Also today, a prominent Sunni leader criticized his son’s arrest during a raid at Baghdad. Adnan al-Dulaimi is one of the three top leaders of the largest Sunni Arab bloc in Iraq’s parliament.

Mr. Dulaimi said American and Iraqi troops arrested his 44-year-old son, Muthanna, late yesterday at the family’s home in western Baghdad. Another son was also detained eight months ago.

Mr. Dulaimi told The Associated Press the arrests are “targeting national reconciliation, the political process and democracy in the country.” He said Muthanna is not involved in politics, and his arrest was meant to silence his father instead.

The American military said no American troops were involved in the arrest. But the raid could upset the delicate political cooperation between Shiites and Sunnis in parliament.

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Associated Press Writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.


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