Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Interfax news agency on June 29 that Russia “does not have any intention of helping Iraq set up its army.” Lavrov was speaking in Istanbul following the NATO-Russia Council meeting that took place on the sidelines of the NATO summit held there. Commenting on NATO’s decision to help train Iraq’s new army, Lavrov said that Iraq had “a normal professional army” prior to the U.S.-led coalition’s invasion and ouster of Saddam Hussein and that “it was a mistake to disband it” because this “added to the destabilization of Iraq.” Lavrov also reiterated that his government has ruled out the participation of Russian troops in peacekeeping operations in Iraq.
Lavrov said he had been informed in advance about the U.S.-led coalition’s surprise early transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, and he described the move as an “important step” toward implementing U.N. Security Council resolution 1546, which was adopted on June 8. But he also described the security situation in Iraq as “deteriorating” and said the handover of power as such could not alter the situation in a fundamental way. “Now the resistance is continuing and some opposition forces see cooperation with the interim government of Iraq as unacceptable,” Lavrov said. He reiterated Russia’s call for an international conference on Iraq, which, he said, could help reconcile “the main political forces of the country” (Channel One, RIA Novosti, June 29).
Lavrov was more positive about Russia’s economic relations with Iraq, noting that negotiations are currently underway “on Russia’s participation in the restoration of the Iraqi economy and infrastructure” (Itar-Tass, June 29). Still, he noted that the Russian specialists who had been working in Iraq to help rebuild its electrical power grid were forced to leave the country earlier this year after insurgents took some of them hostage and killed several others (Regnum.ru, June 29; see EDM May 14 and 17). Meanwhile, the Iraqi charge d’affaires in Russia, Hisham Abdul Razzak Ibrahim, said that Russian companies that had been working in Iraq on contracts concluded under the Oil-for-Food program would now have to bid for the contracts in tenders. But he said that Interenergoservis, the Russian company that had the contract to repair Iraqi power stations and whose employees were the targets of insurgent attacks, would be allowed to keep its contract. “We need the presence of Interenergoservis specialists in Iraq,” Ibrahim said.
The Iraqi charge d’affaires also said that Russia should have “an important place in rebuilding Iraq’s fuel-energy complex” and noted that the first meeting of a joint committee for oil and gas cooperation set up by Russia’s Lukoil and Iraq’s Oil Ministry took place last week. Ibrahim said that a plan has already been developed under which Iraqi police and army units — assisted by multi-national forces, if needed — will protect all of the country’s industrial installations (Interfax, June 29). Lukoil’s chief executive, Vagit Alekperov, said on June 28 that the company plans to extract the first oil from Iraq’s West Qurna field next year (Moscow Times, June 29).