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Iraqis Request German Business Expertise

As the transatlantic dispute over the U.S.-led war in Iraq still simmers, members of the Iraqi provisional governing council met with German leaders in an attempt to gain support for reconstruction efforts.

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Iraqi council president Abdel Aziz al-Hakim (left) at a press conference with German politicians.

Pushing all differences aside, Jalal Talabani of the U.S-installed Iraqi governing council extended an open hand to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. "We are here to open a new page in the relations between the Iraqi people and the German people," he said.

Meeting with German political leaders in Berlin on Thursday, members of the Iraqi interim governing council stressed the need to patch up bilateral relations, which have been strained as a result of Germany’s opposition to the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein.

In talks with Schröder, Talabani and council president Abdel Aziz al-Hakim pressed Germany to take on a more active role in the reconstruction of Iraq and for support in the restructuring of almost two and a half billion dollars of debt Iraq owes to Germany.

The German chancellor said in a press conference that his country is willing to reach out to the Iraqis.

"Germany is willing to make a substantial contribution to efforts aimed at helping to rebuild Iraq," Schröder said.

Learning from German experience

According to government sources, the Iraqi leaders have shown a special interest in Berlin’s offer to help train Iraqi military and security personnel in Germany. They have also called on German business to maintain traditional links to the Iraqi economy, which they said, were vital for rebuilding Iraq’s devastated infrastructure.

Jalal Talabani made a strong effort to allay Germany’s fears of being barred from lucrative reconstruction contracts. Two weeks ago the U.S. administration announced that countries who opposed the Iraq war would be barred from bidding for such contracts.

Council president Aziz al-Hakim also told German leaders that the governing council had decided to "open the door for all countries and all companies," thereby going against President George W. Bush’s earlier statements.

Talabani said Iraq could not do without German expertise in economic transformation, referring to the country’s experience in the substantial overhaul of communist East Germany‘s economy after German unification.

"You have carried out the experiment of changing a monopoly economy into a free enterprise economy," Talabani told Schröder. "We are doing the same and we can benefit from this. We hope that this will strengthen the relationship between the German and Iraqi peoples."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder offered Iraq support during the transition to a market economy as well as with debt reduction. But the German leader stressed that Iraq will need to establish an internationally recognized leadership before it can restructure its debts with the Paris Club of creditor nations.

Fair trial for Saddam Hussein

German leaders also made it clear that they were concerned about the questionable fairness of a future trial of Saddam Hussein. In talks with Claudia Roth, the government’s commissioner for human rights, the Iraqi leaders were told in no uncertain terms that Germany like other European Union states is opposed to issuing a death penalty for the former dictator.

Although Talabani didn’t address the issue in public, he said the trial would be in line with international legal standards. "We will give him full chance to defend himself," he said. "There will be a fair and just court for him and the other criminals who committed grave crimes against the Iraqi people."Talabani also said he was convinced that Saddam will stand trail in Iraq’s newly established special tribunal, set up to hear cases involving leading members of Saddam’s regime who have been accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

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