Australian wheat exports to Iraq look set to reach levels not seen since the AWB scandal as Canberra and Baghdad shift the focus of their relationship from security to commerce.
Baghdad flagged it may soon take up to one million tonnes of Australian wheat, during a meeting between Trade Minister Simon Crean and his Iraqi counterpart Abdul-Falah Al-Sudani in Canberra on Thursday.
“We had discussions that showed the Iraqi government wants to enter into arrangements for the long-term supply of Australian wheat,” Mr Crean told AAP through a spokesman.
“Dr Al-Sudani indicated to me that the Iraq government would be interested in buying approximately one million tonnes of Australian wheat each year, in the future.”
AWB scandal took its toll
There has been a major lull in exports in the wake of the AWB wheat scandal, which came to a head with the release of the Cole inquiry report in late 2006.
Royal commissioner Terence Cole found the wheat exporter paid some $290 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein\’s regime between 1999 and 2003.
Exports of wheat came to a halt in 2007 and in 2008 stood at about 348,000 tonnes, a long way from the 1.2 million tonnes imported by Iraq in 2005.
Dr Al-Sudani was part of a delegation accompanying Iraq\’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on a five-day visit to Australia.
Closer commercial ties were the priority during talks between Mr al-Maliki and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Six years after the invasion of Iraq, and as Australia\’s troop numbers dwindle, both countries are focused on growing the economic relationship in areas like agriculture and resources.
“Australia\’s relationship with Iraq is entering into a new phase,” Mr Rudd told reporters.
“The prime minister and I have agreed that it is time to build a strong relationship based on our broad commercial and economic ties.”
Iraqi PM visits war memorial
Meanwhile, Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki trod a well worn path during his two-day stop in Canberra, visiting the Australian War Memorial and laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Like other dignitaries, Mr al-Maliki inspected the memorial\’s poignant roll of honour.
Unlike those who\’d come before, he stopped to pay tribute to the two Australians who have died since hostilities began in 2003.
Last on the touching walkway was a commemoration of the most recent theatre involving Australians – the unfinished Iraq war.
Engraved on the wall were the names Private Jake Kovco and Warrant Officer David Nary – two men who died serving their country, though in vastly different circumstances.
As the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, Mr al-Maliki paid tribute to efforts of Australia\’s servicemen and women in freeing his country from the rule of former president Saddam Hussein.
“I would like to take this opportunity to praise the personnel who helped in Iraq against the challenge of terrorism, which not only threatened Iraq but threatened humanity as well.”
He offered his sympathies to the families and friends of those who had died in Iraq.
“I extend my sympathies to the families of loved ones who lost their lives while helping Iraq,” Mr al-Maliki said.