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Germany

German Foreign Minister Visits Northern Iraq Amidst Criticism

Germany's highest ranking diplomat, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has wrapped up his two-day trip to Iraq with a visit to the Kurdish north of the country. But not all Iraqis agree with all aspects of Germany's policy.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, and Masoud Barzani, President of the Autonomous Kurdish Government reveal a sign on the newly opened consulate

Steinmeier's visit has raised Germany's profile in Iraq

The German Foreign minister spent Wednesday, Feb. 18 in the Northern Iraqi city of Arbil before returning to Germany.

While there, Frank-Walter Steinmeier officially opened a new German consulate that is intended to symbolize renewed, closer ties between his country and post-war Iraq.

"We want to assist in reconstruction," Steinmeier said, adding that his government respected the achievements of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government.

Against the backdrop of the relatively peaceful, semi-autonomous northern region, with its Kurdish majority, Steinmeier also said that he anticipated continued improvements in Iraq's security situation.

"I'm certain that people in Iraq will want to leave violence and hatred behind and build a common future for their country," Steinmeier said.

Iraqi criticism

An Iraqi soldier stands quard outside a Christian church in Baghdad

The Iraqi government has tried to ensure the safety of the country's Christian minority

Steinmeier's trip has been hailed as the start of a new chapter in relations between Iraq and Germany, which refused to participate in the 2003 US-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein, and which drastically reduced its involvement in the oil-rich, Middle East country.

But things weren't all smiles and mutual compliments between Steinmeier and his Iraqi hosts.

On Tuesday a deputy minister in the Iraqi government, Asghar al Moussawi, took Germany to task for helping Christians leave Iraq.

"The fact that certain governments are encouraging the emigration of Iraq's Christians is unacceptable," Moussawi was quoted as saying by the Centre for National Media, an Iraqi government organization.

In April 2008, Germany's Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged European countries to offer refuge to Iraqi Christians. That's angered some Iraqis.

"To encourage a group of any particular faith to leave the country is against international law and causes more harm than benefit to those people," Moussawi was quoted as saying.

It's estimated that of the 800,000 Christians who lived in Iraq before the 2003 US-led invasion, around a quarter of a million have fled the country.

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