After years of Egyptian absence from Iraq, Egypt sent its foreign minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit to Iraq for the first time in nearly two decades in a sign of a growing Arab acceptance of the country’s Shiite-led government. It was the first visit to Iraq by an Egyptian foreign minister since former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990

Abul-Gheit, who held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and other leaders, said his visit was aimed at helping Iraq face its “many challenges,” including extremism, violence and sectarian hatred. “We hope that peace and security will prevail in Iraq,” he said. Egypt’s top diplomat added that Egypt was ready to open a new embassy and help with reconstruction of Iraq’s oil industry. He added during his landmark visit to Baghdad that the timing was the right one for the two countries to promote bilateral ties.

Accompanying Abul-Gheit was Minister of Petroleum Eng. Sameh Fahmy. Iraq said that it has called on Egypt to collaborate in rebuilding the country’s oil industry after Cairo announced it was ready to re-establish a diplomatic mission in Baghdad.
Iraqi officials asked their Egyptian counterparts to send oil industry representatives to discuss the possibilities of “rehabilitating the infrastructure and cooperating in areas of drilling, pipelines and other facilities.”

Cairo has had no official diplomatic representative in Iraq since the July 2005 abduction and murder of its charge d’affaires in Baghdad Ehab El-Sherif by Al-Qaeda.

The visit came on the heels of a call issued by Al-Maliki in last April appealing to Sunni Arab states to help stabilize Iraq by living up to pledges to forgive his country’s debts, erasing war reparations and reopening embassies in Baghdad. The move by Arab governments came, as many observers believe; counterbalance the growing Iranian presence in neighboring Iraq.
Fahmy, who met with Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Al-Shahristani, said that both sides agreed on enhancing cooperation in the fields of oil and gas. The Egyptian Minister added that the meeting concentrated on practical steps that would make it easy for “Egyptian firms to develop Iraqi oil companies.” He highlighted that Egypt formed a delegation of oil companies to probe petroleum projects in Iraq. The Egyptian delegation will have talks with Iraqi officials on rehabilitating the oil infrastructure in Iraq. Besides the projects on developing oilfields, refineries, pipelines and production pads, the Egyptian companies will also seek prospecting operations in Iraq, according to Ministry of Petroleum officials.
Iraq and Egypt have agreed to rehabilitate the country’s oil infrastructure under a deal that will see Egyptian firms actively working in the country for the first time since the 2003-U.S. invasion. “The Ministry of Oil has struck deals with several Egyptian foreign firms to revive the country’s oil sector and extend help in areas of digging, extension of pipelines and construction of oil installations,” a statement issued by the Iraqi Oil Ministry said.

According to Fahmy, the two countries have reached a deal on strategic cooperation in petro-industries. Under one of the deals, Egyptian firms are to rehabilitate natural gas installations in Bayji, north of Baghdad. Bayji is the site of the largest Iraqi refinery complex with a capacity of more than 350,000 barrels a day. The Egyptians are also to build 20 filling stations in the country and hold training courses for Iraqi oil personnel.

Upon his return to Cairo, Fahmy held a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to review the outcome of the visit. “Iraqi officials are interested in furthering cooperation between the two countries in all fields,” said Fahmy following the meeting. He announced that two Egyptian companies, Tharwa and the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation would take part in excavation activities in Iraqi oilfields.

According to news reports, the Egyptian delegation traveling to Iraq will include first secretaries of the ministry, executive chief of the EGPC, head of the Holding Natural Gas Company, and heads of oil services companies, Enppi, Petrojet, digging companies, Maritime Petroleum Services, Gasco in addition to other companies.

“Egypt has a wide expertise in oilfields, as we have many companies that successfully implemented 43 projects in 13 Arab countries and in Venezuela,” Fahmy said. “This maximizes our companies’ opportunities in winning international tenders due to be announced by the Iraqi oil ministry,” he pointed out.

By Mohamed El-Sayed

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