Baghdad: Iraq’s prime minister appealed to visiting Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni on Friday for closer economic ties with his oil-rich country suffering from power cuts and decaying infrastructure.
Meloni, who leads the eurozone’s third-largest economy, is on her first bilateral trip outside Europe. She is on a pre-Christmas visit to Italian troops posted in Iraq in support of an anti-jihadist mission.
“We expressed our disposition to develop economic cooperation in all fields, especially agriculture, water and health,” Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani said at a joint press conference.
He invited to Iraq “companies specialised in infrastructure but also in the exploitation of gas.”
A government priority is to eliminate the highly polluting practice of gas flaring, a precursor to oil extraction, which contributes to global warming. The United Nations says Iraq is one of five countries most exposed to some impacts of climate change.
Italian oil firm Eni has been involved in exploration and production in Iraq for more than a decade. Part of its programme “includes the use of associated gas for electricity generation,” the firm says on its website.
Captured and treated flared gas could help address Iraq’s chronic power shortages.
The country is rich in oil but beset by infrastructure in disrepair, endemic corruption and widespread unemployment nearly two decades after a US-led invasion toppled the dictator Saddam Hussein.
Nearly one-third of the population lives in poverty, the UN says.
Sudani said Iraq “is prepared to supply Italy with what it needs in terms of oil and gas.”
With output of more than 3.3 million barrels per day, Iraq is the second largest crude producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party swept to power in September elections, forming a coalition government with the anti-immigration League and Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia.
She is the first woman to become Italian prime minister and heads Italy’s most far-right government since World War II.
Italy is a NATO member with up to 650 personnel deployed to Iraq and Kuwait, according to the defence ministry website.
Under operation Prima Parthica, those personnel help staff multinational commands in Kuwait, Baghdad and Arbil. They also train the armed forces and police, and provide administrative support.