MOSCOW-BAGHDAD RELATIONS. RESTORING FORMER OR BUILDING NEW?

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MOSCOW, December 7 (RIA Novosti's Marianna Belenkaya) - Russia and Iraq are gradually passing over from dubious verbal assurances of their relations remaining intact after the downfall of Saddam Hussain to practical work over outstanding matters. Such is the main outcome of the recent Moscow visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Alawi.

Received by President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, Iyad Alawi expressed delight with the fact that the visit encouraged the resumption of historical and friendly relations between the two countries. For his part, President Putin pointed to lack of any political bias in Russian-Iraqi relations in the past years, above all, it was absent from Russian-Iraqi economic cooperation which has been based on the principles of mutual benefit. That this is really so is clear from the Iraqis' intention to continue work with Russian companies.

It is for the first time since the downfall of the Hussain regime that Russian-Iraqi talks focused on practicable mechanisms of joint work.

Thus, Russian Minister for the Industry and Power Engineering Viktor Khristenko discussed with his Iraqi counterpart Ayham al-Sammarai and Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban cooperation between the relevant agencies so as to give a new impetus to the execution of the already available contracts rather than to begin everything anew. Talks on which contracts and to what extent should take a new lease on life are under way.

The first accords are likely to be made public this February as a Russian-Iraqi inter-government commission will be in session in Moscow on proposals from the Iraqi side. Russia has no objections but doubts that Iraq's internal matters pertaining to elections, in particular, will make it possible.

President Putin told Iyad Allawi that he was strongly doubtful about the possibility of staging elections when the country was occupied by foreign troops.

However, the Russian president, when giving an interview to Brazilian journalists two weeks ago, declared in favour of staging democratic elections in Iraq in scheduled time. The sooner the Iraqi people are enabled to decide their destiny for themselves, the sooner conditions are ripe for "squeezing international terrorists from the territory of that country," according to Putin. Besides, the occupation of Iraq has been formally accomplished, which was recognized by Russia by way of voting for Security Council resolution No.1546 last June.

So, what does the Russian president imply? As he talked to Iyad Allawi, he renounced neither his signature under resolution 1546, nor his words about the forthcoming elections. On the contrary, he made a reminder of Russia's declared support for Iraqi elections on January 30, 2005. It is just that Moscow is uncertain whether it will be possible to recognize the legitimacy of elections to be held in the context of unceasing armed hostilities. Moreover, if they are finally organised in such extreme conditions, which is strongly doubtful, they will turn into a sheer formality. One can only wonder if a majority of Iraqis will be able to take part in voting, to come to the polling stations and to leave their homes ignoring safety considerations.

Moscow is inclined to recognize these elections as legitimate if representatives of all political, ethnic and religious forces of the country are involved. It is not clear so far which parties and which leaders are ready to take part in these polls and what is essential, whether they will be allowed to do this.

Moscow is not the only one being filled with apprehensions about future elections in Iraq, whose results are anyway to be either recognized or not recognised by the UN Security Council. The world community would be happy to see in Iraq a genuinely legitimate leadership elected by the Iraqis themselves rather than appointed by the occupational forces. It stands to reason however that the Security Council is bound to be swept by a fierce strife over which elections, if any, can be recognized and which are not. Putin and Allawi were just busy discussing moves for staging successful elections, which is essential for stability and security in Iraq. These elections are also to affect trade and economic agreements that can be signed by Baghdad with Moscow or any other side.

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