No discussion of Iraq's "odious debt" to Czech Republic during Talabani visit

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani with Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was due to fly out of Prague on Wednesday, at the close of his three-day visit. During his time in Prague he met a host of senior Czech officials and members of the business community, but will he leave the Czech capital with anything to show for all that meeting and greeting?

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani with Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
The Czech Foreign Ministry says since the overthrow of Saddam in 2003 it has spent some 78 million dollars on Iraq, mostly in the form of humanitarian aid, such as running a Czech Army field hospital in Basra and training Iraqi police recruits. Of that figure, 20 million dollars went towards supporting concrete projects in areas of energy, oil, water, geological research and transport.

For Iraq, the top priority remains security. President Talabani told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek that his country very much appreciated the training of Iraqi police by around 100 Czech military policemen in the south of country, and wanted it to continue. The Czech government also wants it to continue, but that must be decided by the Czech parliament. Any training of the Iraqi armed forces would also have to receive parliamentary approval.

Saddam borrowed heavily from Communist countries in the 1980s, and Czechoslovakia was no exception. Former Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said last year that Iraq owed the Czech Republic around 160 million US dollars. However the issue of Iraq's debt to Prague was not on agenda of President Talabani's talks in Prague, but he was asked about it during a press conference on Tuesday:

"Iraq is looking friendlily to those countries who are friendly to us. To the others, we are raising an article in international law called odious debts. This article gives a freely-elected government the right to refuse to give back the debts taken by a dictatorship. But we are not presenting this article to our Czech brothers and friends. We are looking at this in a very positive way if they would like to discuss it with us."

President Talabani's trip was primarily about luring Czech firms to take part in Iraqi reconstruction projects, but so far no contracts have been signed. Mr Talabani met representatives of several well-known firms, including Aero Vodochody, which makes military aircraft, Chemoprojekt, Jawa and Strojexport. Chemoprojekt, for example, is interested in a tender to build an oil refinery in Kurdistan. But such tenders take a long time to come to fruition, so only time will tell whether the Iraqi president's visit has been a success.