Iraqi business delegation in Moscow to revive traditional ties

Members of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce met Thursday with Russian business representatives in Moscow to discuss the revival of traditional Soviet-era ties that have lapsed since the Iraq war.

The Russian-Arab Business Council, which helped organize the visit, said that the two sides discussed ways to encourage Russian companies to return to Iraq as well as security issues during two days of meetings that end Thursday.

It was the first such visit to Russia since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Members of the Baghdad chamber of commerce advised Russian businesses to form joint ventures with Iraqi partners as a way back into Iraq.

Russia saw contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars frozen in the oil, gas and power station building sectors after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. The future of those deals has hinged on approval from Iraq's new leaders as well as security concerns after several Russian workers were killed and kidnapped last year.

In a key deal, Russian oil giant Lukoil's 1997 agreement to drill at the West Qurna field has yet to be given the go-ahead. The field is one of Iraq's most promising, with an estimated reserve capacity of 4 billion barrels.

The Russian Foreign Ministry last year urged Russian workers in Iraq to return home amid growing security concerns that forced the major Russian company active in the country, power plant construction firm Interenergoservis, to evacuate all its staff.

An American businessman, Jeffrey Ake, 47, who was kidnapped Monday from a water treatment plant near Baghdad, according to officials at the American Embassy. A videotape aired Wednesday by Al-Jazeera television showed Ake being held at gunpoint by at least three assailants.

"The situation is far from stable. The risks are high," said Yevgeny Yagupets, a member of Russia's commission for economic cooperation with Iraq. "I can't say how many Russian companies are working there - many work without announcing their presence."

ALEX NICHOLSON, Associated Press Writer

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