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Syrian premier in Iraq to promote economic ties

Syrian premier minister arrived in Baghdad on Saturday as a try to enhance economic relations between the two countries

AFP, Saturday 15 Jan 2011
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Syrian premier Mohammed Naji Otri arrived in Baghdad on Saturday in a bid to boost economic ties between the two neighbours, which only re-established full diplomatic relations four months ago.

Otri's visit follows a mid-October trip to Damascus by his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki, and comes after the two countries ended a year-long row in September by restoring their respective ambassadors.

"He arrived, and an official welcoming ceremony was held at the airport," said Ali Mussawi, an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"The visit is firstly to congratulate Iraq on forming the government," Mussawi added, referring to the December 21 formation of an administration in Baghdad, more than nine months after parliamentary elections.

"It is also a business visit -- a big delegation including Syria's oil, finance and economy ministers has come with him -- and the visit will be about implementing previous agreements."

Among these was a deal last year to build two pipelines linking Iraq to Mediterranean sea ports, via Syria, for exporting crude oil, which accounts for the vast majority of Baghdad's government income.

Otri's last trip to Baghdad came in April 2009, which was the first visit to Iraq by a Syrian prime minister since the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Iraq and Syria restored full diplomatic ties on September 24, little more than a year after they recalled their envoys after a row erupted when Baghdad accused Damascus of harbouring the masterminds of devastating attacks in August 2009 in the Iraqi capital.

The diplomatic flap had thrown into disarray extensive efforts made in the previous years to boost ties, which had been weak under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Diplomatic relations between Damascus and Baghdad were severed in 1980 when the countries were ruled by rival wings of the Baath party and Syria backed Iran in a devastating war with Iraq that broke out that year.

Relations started to thaw in 2000 and the two nations decided in 2006 to resume formal ties, three years after the invasion.

Iraq's first ambassador to Syria for nearly 30 years arrived in Damascus to start work in February 2009.

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