Iraq tells visiting Italy PM it seeks closer economic ties

Iraq’s prime minister called on visiting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Friday to deepen economic ties with the oil-rich nation, which has been plagued by power outages and damaged infrastructure.

Meloni, who heads the eurozone’s third-largest economy, is making his first bilateral visit outside Europe. He arrived just before Christmas to support the anti-jihad campaign for Italian troops deployed in Iraq.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said at a joint press conference, “We have expressed our position to develop economic cooperation in all sectors, especially agriculture, water and health.

He invited “companies specializing not only in infrastructure, but also in natural gas exploitation” to Iraq.

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Eliminating the highly polluting practice of gas flaring, a precursor to oil extraction that contributes to global warming, is a government priority. According to the United Nations, Iraq is one of the five countries most affected by some of the effects of climate change.

Italian oil firm Eni has been exploring and producing in Iraq for more than 10 years. Part of the program “includes the use of associated gas to generate electricity,” the firm wrote on its website.

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Captured and refined combustible gas could help alleviate Iraq’s chronic energy shortages.

The country is rich in oil, but almost two decades after a US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, infrastructure has been destroyed and corruption and unemployment are high.

Nearly a third of the population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations.

Sudani said Iraq is “ready to meet Italy’s oil and gas needs”.

With production of more than 3.3 million barrels per day, Iraq is the second largest producer of crude oil in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

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Meloni’s far-right Italian Brotherhood party came to power in September, forming a coalition government with the anti-immigration League and Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia party.

She is Italy’s first woman prime minister and leads Italy’s most right-wing government since World War II.

Italy is a NATO member and has sent up to 650 personnel to Iraq and Kuwait, according to the Defense Ministry website.

Operating Prima Partica, these personnel assist multinational command personnel in Kuwait, Baghdad, and Arbil. It also trains the armed forces and the police and provides administrative support.

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