Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Friday pitched for investment from India to rebuild his war-shattered nation which is a critical energy supplier to New Delhi.
Iraq’s prime minister said there were “great opportunities” for Indian firms to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure -- constructing ports, highways, housing, railways, schools, hospitals and investing in oil production facilities.
“There is so much potential,” said Maliki, who is on a trip to New Delhi and Mumbai, the first by an Iraqi leader since a 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted president Saddam Hussein.
Maliki’s comments came as the two sides were expected to sign an agreement that would increase Iraqi sales of crude oil to fuel-import reliant India.
While China has been energetically seeking infrastructure contracts in Iraq, and has invested substantially in Iraqi oil production, the Iraqis said India has been noticeably absent.
Iraq has said it may need up to $1 trillion over the next decade to rebuild its crumbling infrastructure.
Luring foreign investment to Iraq has been complicated by its worst violence since 2008, with the interior ministry describing the country as a “battleground.”
The chairman of Iraq’s National Investment Commission, Sami Raouf Taqi al-Araji, said the country had special forces protecting foreign workers.
“We’re committed to protecting foreign workers, they are away from their homes, they are in our care,” Araji told reporters.
Indian exports to Iraq totaled around $1.3 billion in 2012, up from $740 million in 2011, according to an Indian government official.
Baghdad’s exports to India -- the vast majority of which were oil -- totaled more than $20bn last year, up from $9bn a year earlier in 2011.
India has said it keen to “reverse the traffic” by rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure -- investing in roads, power lines, telecoms and other key sectors -- and move to a more broad-based relationship than simply a buyer of oil.
The rise in Iraq’s oil imports to India has come as sales from sanctions-hit Iran have tumbled.
India, struggling to stabilize its battered currency, is also pushing Iraq to accept payment for its oil exports in rupees, Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma also said Friday.
Araji said Iraq would have to consider the request for India to pay in rupees.
Iran, which has long battled neighboring Iraq for global oil market share, has agreed to take payments for the oil it sells to India in rupees after U.S. and Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program blocked other payment methods.