BEIJING (AP) — Iraq's prime minister sought investment from China in the form of a dedicated fund to support reconstruction of the war-battered, oil-rich nation as he made his first official visit to the country Monday , an Iraqi government official said.
Nouri al-Maliki led a high-level delegation in talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the delegation hoped China would contribute more toward Iraq's reconstruction efforts, starting with a fund for Chinese companies to invest there.
"We are asking the China side to make a fund, for the reconstruction, and to guarantee and assure the investment in Iraq for the Chinese companies," Al-Dabbagh told The Associated Press in a brief interview. "We left it to the Chinese to check and to find out how they could manage this one. It's especially dedicated to Iraq."
Al-Maliki was welcomed by Wen with an honor guard reception. He told Wen that Iraq had a lot to learn from the Beijing model.
"We are very willing to learn from China's experience," he said. "Through its own development, China has already become a big nation and an important economic power in the world. China, through its own efforts, realized unity and development."
Wen said China would provide assistance to Iraq's economic reconstruction and expand cooperation in oil exploration, refinery and equipment trade, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
"The Chinese government will encourage companies to establish a long-term and stable relationship on oil and natural gas supply and demand with the Iraqi side," Wen was quoted as saying.
The two leaders oversaw the signing of a cooperation agreement on economic technology and another pledging administrative skills training for Iraqi government personnel.
Al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi spokesman, said the reconstruction fund would be similar to funds set up by Korea and planned by Germany. He added that the government hopes China can invest not only in Iraq's oil sector but also in petrochemicals, steel and construction.
Al-Maliki was to have talks with President Hu Jintao on Tuesday. Before his departure Thursday, al-Maliki was also to visit with Chinese entrepreneurs and tour some high-tech firms, the China Daily newspaper said.
The visit comes as cooperation between the countries has surged in recent years as China has emerged as one of the biggest economic beneficiaries of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which Beijing opposed.
While Western firms were largely subdued in their interest in Iraq's recent oil auctions, China snapped up contracts, shrugging off the security risks and the country's political instability for the promise of oil.
The state-run China National Petroleum Corp. last month started operations in the al-Ahdab oil field in central Iraq, the first major new area to start oil production in the country in two decades, according to the China Daily. The site is expected to produce around 25,000 barrels of oil per day in the first three years, it said.
The development of the 1 billion-barrel al-Ahdab oil field was the result of a $3 billion pact in 2008, the first made by the new Iraqi government after the 2003 invasion, and the first Chinese-led oil deal.
China also agreed last year to write off 80 percent of Iraq's debt, a move that could further push Chinese business interests in the country, the Iraqi government said in February last year. Iraq's Saddam Hussein-era debt to China stood at $8.5 billion, it said then.