5 October 2005
South Africa and Iraq have resolved to increase political and trade relations, especially in the oil sector, and South Africa is seriously considering opening a mission in Baghdad.
This emerged following the first South Africa/Iraq meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad and his Iraqi counterpart, Talib Al-Bayati, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Pahad told reporters that the parties discussed broad economic relations, and that the Iraqi delegation had informed them that the Iraqi oil industry had “tremendous” potential for involvement and investment.
Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world.
Pahad said the relevant departments from both sides would look further into the potential of economic relations between the two countries. The two deputy ministers also discussed the potential of visits between the two countries’ business sectors.
“The deputy minister [Al-Bayati] has stressed that there is a lot of potential in Iraq in the post-conflict situation and reconstruction and development process for international partnerships generally and specifically for South Africa,” Pahad said.
Economic trade between South Africa and Iraq increased from over R90-million in 2004 to over R200-million during the first five months of 2005.
“There are a lot of Iraqi business people based in [neighbouring] Dubai, Jordan and Kuwait, and we think that can become the starting point between the business sector and parastatals,” Pahad said.
He added that he had received a “thorough” briefing Al-Bayati on the constitutional process unfolding in Iraq, including the referendum on the draft constitution that is scheduled for later in October, to be followed by elections in December.
“[The Iraqi] government is confident that there will be a very successful turnout and that a political process is on the roll,” Pahad said. “We also received a briefing on the security situation there.”
He said the South African government had always believed that Iraq was “very strategically placed” and that when peace finally came it would be a major player in the Middle East region.
The South African delegation to the meeting briefed the Iraqi delegation on developments in the country and the continent, as well as South Africa’s interest in increasing economic relations in the Middle East region.
Al-Bayati said Iraq viewed South Africa – the only African country in which Iraq has an embassy – as important, and that it envisaged strengthening existing political and economic relations with SA.
“There is a lot of potential resources in Iraq such as oil, gas and minerals,” Al-Bayati said. “Iraq needs oil for reconstruction, and we need all kind of help from friendly countries, and South Africa can do a lot to help the Iraqi people and government.”
On security issues, Al-Bayati said Iraq was up against groups like the Al-Qaeda that did not believe in democracy and attacked women and children.
“They consider everybody who takes part in elections, referendums or democratic processes as infidels who deserve to be killed. Car bombs are targeting innocent civilians and it is our responsibility to protect our people and maintaining security.
“We had a vacuum of power because of the collapse of the [Saddam Hussein] regime and the dismissal of the army and police force, but now we are in the process of rebuilding our army, police force and security organisations,” he said.
He added that when the elected Iraqi government took over the running of the country, its security forces would be capable of maintaining security, and would discuss taking over from the multinational force deployed there.
“We will keep them for as long as they are needed and they will not be kept [in Iraq] longer than they are needed,” he explained.