Maliki lauds UAE's support

The prime minister of Iraq praises the UAE for its leading role in assisting democracy and reconstruction of the country.

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ABU DHABI // The prime minister of Iraq has praised the UAE for its leading role in assisting democracy and reconstruction of his country, following a visit by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. The UAE was among the first nations to open up to Iraq following the war, reinforcing bilateral relations and supporting the democratic process, Nouri al Maliki said in a statement after the visit.

"The Iraqi people and political forces consider highly the UAE's supportive positions and its commitment to back up reconstruction efforts," he said. A high-level delegation, which included the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Interior Minister, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, and Abdullah al Shehi, the Ambassador to Iraq, travelled to Baghdad on an unannounced visit on Tuesday. Although their main purpose was to show support for the Iraqi government and to strengthen economic and political ties, the delegation also discussed possible sites for a new embassy.

Sheikh Abdullah visited Baghdad in June and announced the Government's decision to re-establish a diplomatic mission in Iraq. The UAE withdrew its most senior diplomat, a chargé d'affaires, from Baghdad in May 2006 after another diplomat was kidnapped by gunmen and held for two weeks. The visit "is a significant step towards developing relations with the UAE, particularly in political, economic and commercial fields", Mr Maliki said.

The trip makes Sheikh Mohammed the most senior GCC leader to visit the country since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in 2003. The visit lasted several hours and included talks with Iraqi parliamentarians and officials, as well as the prime minister. Several countries have shown open support for Mr Maliki's government in recent months. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, arrived in Baghdad on Sunday, promising to reopen an embassy soon. He was the first Egyptian foreign minister to visit the country for 18 years. Other high-profile visitors have included King Abdullah of Jordan and Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, who both went in August.

Iraqi leaders anticipate that the relative decline in violence over the past 18 months will encourage other Arab states to re-establish diplomatic ties with the country. The UAE is one of the biggest contributors to aid in Iraq and in July wrote off the country's debts to the Emirates, which totalled nearly US$7 billion (Dh25.7bn). lmorris@thenational.ae