Iraqi PM to visit Europe, meet Pope Benedict

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will visit Germany and Italy next week to encourage European investment in Iraq, the government’s spokesman said on Thursday.

Ali al-Dabbagh said Maliki would first visit Germany during the July 21-25 trip. He would meet government leaders in both countries and also hold talks with Pope Benedict.

The trip is the latest sign many foreign capitals are ready to upgrade relations with Iraq, where violence has fallen to a four-year low.

Dabbagh said the visits aimed to boost Baghdad’s ties with European nations and encourage them to start investing in Iraq.

European interest in Iraq, especially in its massive energy potential, has grown. The European Union is negotiating an energy pact with Iraq, part of the bloc’s efforts to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Iraq has the world’s third largest proven reserves of oil and in June opened key producing fields to foreign investment.

Dabbagh said Maliki would brief Pope Benedict on the government’s measures to spread tolerance and national reconciliation among Iraqis.

The Pope has often called for an end to violence in Iraq. He condemned the kidnapping and killing earlier this year of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho.

Italy took part in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, sending 3,000 troops, or the fourth largest contingent. The last Italian soldier withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2006.

Germany opposed the invasion. German Economy Minister Michael Glos traveled to Baghdad late last week, becoming the first German cabinet minister to visit since the invasion.

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