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Lebanon: We want to be part of rebuilding Iraq

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C) is seen during a visit to the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood on Feb. 20, 2018. (Sabah Arar/AFP)
BAGHDAD: Lebanese President Michel Aoun expressed his country’s desire to be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and to boost trade and tourism between the two countries, Iraqi officials told Arab News on Tuesday.

Aoun, who is visiting Iraq for the first time since taking office in Lebanon in 2016, arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday morning accompanied by Lebanese ministers on a one-day visit at the invitation of Iraqi President Fuad Masum. He met Iraqi officials, including the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament, to discuss joint interests.

Officials from Masum’s office told Arab News that the Lebanese had come to Baghdad to discuss “four essential” issues: the participation of Lebanese companies in the reconstruction of Iraq; cooperation between the two countries in counter-terrorism; investments projects and reinforcing trade and tourism exchange; and Lebanese debts incurred against Iraq.

“Lebanese companies are interested in coming to Iraq to work in the field of reconstruction. This is a key point (in discussions), in addition to cooperation in combating terrorism and promoting trade and tourism exchanges,” Hussien Al-Hindawi, Masum’s media adviser, told Arab News.

“They are looking to obtain some facilities that allow Lebanese companies to sign up for the reconstruction of Iraq and to obtain some investment projects in addition to customs facilities that contribute to increasing Lebanese exports to Iraq,” Al-Hindawi said.

In October, Iraq declared the end of military operations against militants and announced the start of reconstruction of war-affected areas. More than 150 investment projects, including dozens of mega projects, were presented by Iraq a week ago at the international conference for reconstruction in Kuwait, in coordination with the Kuwaiti government, the International Monetary Fund and the UN.

Most Arab and international companies are looking for facilities and guarantees for projects worth several billion dollars, specifically in oil and reconstruction.

Iraq is one of the most important markets for Lebanese goods in the region — about 10 percent of Lebanese exports are consumed annually. However, exports have decreased since 2011 because of additional costs caused by the suspension of transport through Syrian territory after the outbreak of civil war and the increase in customs duties imposed by Iraqi authorities on imported goods.

The debts owed to Iraqi traders since 2003, estimated at $1 billion, were also part of the talks, Iraqi officials told Arab News.

Nicola Tueni, minister of state for anti-corruption, who is keeping tabs on the file of debts, was among the Lebanese delegation.

“The Lebanese president is under pressure from his people to engage in reconstruction and investment projects in Iraq,” an Iraqi official involved in the talks told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“They filed a formal request to reduce the customs duties on Lebanese goods and are currently negotiating to acquire some investments for extinguishing the old debts,” the official said.

“We can get a good deal. They are strongly looking to come back to work in the south, at the same time we need all possible efforts to rebuild our country.”

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