Egypt hopes for quick accord on Saddam-era debt

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BAGHDAD – Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said in Baghdad on Sunday that Cairo hopes for a quick accord with Iraq on the hundreds of millions of dollars of Saddam-era debt.
“We have indications that there is confirmed intention (by Iraq) to resolve this issue, and we hope to reach a quick settlement,” Abul Gheit said at a joint news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. Egypt has put the figure at double Iraq’s estimate of the amount.
Mufid Shehab, Egypt’s minister for parliamentary and legal affairs, said in 2007 that Iraq owed almost 1.6 billion dollars – 553 million dollars to the Cairo government, 222 million dollars to Egyptian private firms and 784 million dollars in damages owed to Egyptian workers. But Iraq’s then finance minister,
Bayan Jabr Solagh, put the figure at 800 million dollars. The damages to workers stem from former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians after Cairo supported a US-led coalition which ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.
Abul Gheit also referred to military debt as an outstanding issue, without providing details. Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is “very interested in resolving this significant issue and to close this file,” Zebari said of the debt, adding it would take “a political decision.”
Maliki’s priority was the compensation owed to Egyptian workers as it was “a humanitarian file,” he said, adding that two joint committees were working to resolve the debt issue.
Abul Gheit congratulated Baghdad on its new government, which parliament approved last Tuesday after more than nine months of political deadlock.
The Egyptian minister met on Sunday with Maliki and parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, and he was also to hold talks with President Jalal Talabani later the same day.
During his visit to Iraq, he is to inaugurate Egyptian consulates in Arbil, the capital of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, and in the southern port city of Basra.