Sunday, April 5, 2009
Britain's Business Minister Peter Mandelson is set to lead the country's first official trade delegation to Iraq for more than 20 years, his office said Friday.
The move is a further sign of London seeking to normalize relations with Baghdad as Britain pulls its troops out of southern Iraq over the coming months, six years after the U.S.-led invasion.
British ministers have talked up the business opportunities in Iraq, particularly in the southern port city of Basra, where Britain's forces and reconstruction efforts are based.
The delegation is made up of 23 companies comprising “a broad range of sectors,” said the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR). “Not just oil and gas but also in healthcare, construction, transport, power, water, banking and the security sector.”
The delegation will also visit Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, while Mandelson will also visit Bahrain. No dates were given for the visits but they are expected “shortly”.
In Iraq, Mandelson and business leaders will meet with Iraqi ministers and officials on opportunities for British firms to get involved in the economic reconstruction of the country.
“The UK government's future relationship with Iraq will be one of partnership,” BERR said.
“It takes on new dimensions including areas such as economic, commercial, cultural and educational cooperation.
“It is a relationship of cooperation and friendship which is entering a new era and will last for many years to come between the two countries.”
On his visit to Bahrain, Mandelson will have high-level meetings to discuss the global economic situation and bilateral issues.
British forces officially started to withdraw from Iraq on Tuesday, signaling the end of six years of military operations that began with the invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
Operations will end by May 31 and all 4,100 British troops are to leave the violence-wracked country by the July 31. Some British troops will still provide naval training.