By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The governments of Armenia and Iraq plan to set up a commission on economic cooperation, according to the head of an Armenian parliamentary group promoting closer ties between the two states.
“The development of our relations with Iraq depends on the creation of that intergovernmental commission,” Ghukas Ulikhanian, an opposition deputy who chairs the Armenia-Iraq “friendship caucus,” said on Tuesday.
Ulikhanian and an Iraqi diplomat in Yerevan told journalists that the commission’s creation will enable Armenia to gain access to Iraq’s markets and win lucrative contracts.
The remarks followed last week’s visited to Iraq of a delegation of Armenian parliamentarians and businessmen led by Ulikhanian. The delegation flew to Baghdad with a batch of humanitarian assistance to the nation crippled by the 11-year UN sanctions. It was the fourth such trip in the last two years.
While in Baghdad, Ulikhanian and other deputies met with Tahayasin Ramadan, the number two figure in the Iraqi leadership. According to an official from the Iraqi embassy in Yerevan, Hagop Mardiros, Ramadan passed on to them a message from President Saddam Hussein urging the Armenian government to “speed up the development of our relations on the state level.”
Baghdad’s ambassador to Armenia, Abbas al-Badri, complained last November that Yerevan is being too slow in pursuing economic cooperation with his country. He said the signing of an agreement paving the way supplies of cheap Iraqi oil to Armenia under the UN “Oil for Food Program” has been postponed recently by the Armenian side for unknown reasons.
Ulikhanian said on Tuesday that senior diplomats from the two countries will meet “in February or March” to make final preparations for the launch of the bilateral commission. He and Mardiros, who is an ethnic Armenian, claimed that Iraq will grant Armenian companies an import quota worth at least $200 million after the commission begins its work.
Some Armenian manufacturers view Iraq as a lucrative export market and are increasingly lobbying for closer commercial links with Hussein’s regime. Ulikhanian himself owns a pharmaceutical company which is already present in Iraq.