Vladimir Putin seeks to boost ties with Iraq

Russia`s President Vladimir Putin pushed for closer energy and military cooperation with Iraq, seeking to rebuild ties.

Moscow: Russia`s President Vladimir Putin Wednesday pushed for closer energy and military cooperation with Iraq, seeking to rebuild ties that withered after Saddam Hussein`s downfall and the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Putin said during the talks with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Russia`s oil companies are willing to expand their operations in Iraq. He urged al-Maliki to ease company registration procedures and simplify other requirements to help boost ties.

"We see the development of trade and economic relations and the deepening of political dialogue as our contribution to the process of speeding up Iraq`s return to peaceful life," Putin said after the talks.

Al-Maliki said during the negotiations that Iraq is willing to develop military and security cooperation with Russia, which supplied billions of dollars worth of weapons to Saddam Hussein.

Al-Maliki told the Interfax news agency that Iraq may buy more than USD 4 billion of weapons from Russia, including helicopter gunships and air defense missiles.

"Iraq has had Soviet weapons, and it has highly-skilled experts who know how to use them," Interfax quoted al-Maliki as saying. "That`s why we are interested in getting weapons from Russia."

Iraq is also seeking foreign investment to develop vast natural resources after decades of war, UN sanctions and neglect.

Russia`s private oil giant OAO Lukoil is among leading international oil companies now operating in Iraq, and is developing the 12.9 billion-barrel West Qurna Phase 2 field in southern Iraq.

In May, Lukoil and its partner, Japan`s Inpex, won the exploration rights in the 5,500-square-kilometer Block 10 oil field, shared by southern provinces of Muthan and Thi Qar.