Beirut Appoints Charge d’affaires in Baghdad
The Lebanese government has appointed a charge d’affaires in Baghdad, ending a seven-year diplomatic hiatus and fueling hope that a trade agreement is in the offing.
“The appointment of a charge d’affaires is a good omen for Lebanese-Iraqi economic ties,” Ahmad Kabbara, head of the export department at the Lebanese Industrialists Association, told the Daily Star.
“But time is our enemy now. We need to finalize the much-delayed free-trade agreement with Iraq, which could now be signed as soon as September,” he added.
The Lebanese government’s decision this week to appoint foreign ministry official Wafic Rhaimi as charge d’affaires in Baghdad comes nearly three years after Iraq and Lebanon exchanged low-profile administrative officials.
Ties between Lebanon and Iraq became strained in 1994 after the assassination of a senior Iraqi opposition leader in Beirut.
“Lebanon did not go all the way and appoint an ambassador to stay on par with Syria, which has only installed a charge d’affaires since mending ties with Iraq,” said Kabbara.
Kabbara and other industrialists had warned that Lebanon’s tardiness in signing the free trade deal or upgrading ties would hurt their chances of boosting trade with Iraq, “Lebanon’s former No. 1 export market,” according to the paper.
“A Lebanese ministerial trip to Iraq will patch up ties nicely,” said Kabbara, “particularly if the ministers manage to bring back Iraqi officials to sign the free trade agreement here.”
Kabbara said the Iraqis would be looking for more signs of Lebanon’s readiness to conclude the free trade agreement through the implementation of previous pacts signed with the Baghdad government.
“Trade with Iraq could shoot up to $1 billion a year under a free trade agreement,” said Kabbara, “but right now Russia will be given the lion’s share due to its opposition to the ‘smart sanctions’ proposal at the United Nations Security Council.”
Russia threatened to use its UN Security Council veto to snuff out a US-backed British proposal for "smart" sanctions on Iraq aimed at loosening controls on imported civilian goods while tightening the net on arms sector imports.
The US-UK partners backed off following the threat, and Iraq has since offered trade incentives to Russia as a reward – Albawaba.com