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Czech PM meets Iraqi prime minister, president in Baghdad

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Baghdad, Aug 27 (CTK special correspondent) – Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka discussed Prague’s support in fighting IS radicals, humanitarian aid and possible cooperation in the post war reconstruction of Iraq with his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad today.

Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) is the second Czech prime minister to have visited Iraq. The first was Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) in 2011.

“I want once again to congratulate the Iraqi government on the strategic defeat of Daesh (IS) in the territory of Iraq, since this victory is important not only for Iraq and the Iraqi people but also for Europe,” Sobotka said after meeting Abadi.

“We considered and still consider the fight against Daesh a part of the fight against terrorism, in which Iraq must not be left alone. This is also why the Czech Republic has been an active part of the international coalition fighting IS,” Sobotka said.

“The Czech Republic is not only a formal member [of the above coalition] but a very active member,” Sobotka told Czech journalists.

He said Iraq has been the biggest importer of weapons from the Czech Republic in the past two years. The Czechs exported ammunition and arms such as submachine guns and L-159 Alca combat planes to Iraq.

About 30 Czech soldiers currently help train Iraqi aviation technicians and pilots of the L-159s.

“We have been fighting IS together with the Iraqis and Kurds and we try to provide maximum support for Iraq,” Sobotka said.

Besides, Prague provides humanitarian aid, mainly for those who lost their homes in consequence of the fights, Sobotka said.

Before meeting Abadi, he said he also wants to discuss with him and other Iraqi leaders the steps Prague and the whole EU should take to create conditions for Iraqi refugees to return home.

The Czech Republic supplied humanitarian aid worth 93.6 million crowns to Iraq in 2012-2016. This year, it has spent 65.5 million on this purpose so far.

Sobotka said the third line of Czech-Iraqi cooperation concerns the future reconstruction of Iraqi areas devastated by fighting.

Sobotka said he can see a big potential for Czech companies’ contribution in this respect.

“To a large extent, we have seized the chance already,” he said, mentioning significant contracts a number of Czech private companies have signed with Iraq.

There have mainly been arms supply contracts so far, but in future, Czech companies might cooperate with Baghdad in petroleum industry, for example, Sobotka said.

He said the Czechs have a lot to follow up in Iraq in this field.

According to the Czech Government Office’s data, up to 60 percent of Iraq’s oil procession capacities were supplied to the country by companies from the former Czechoslovakia.

“We also offer our engineering companies’ participation in the reconstruction and development of Iraqi oil refineries,” Sobotka said.

Apart from Abadi, Sobotka met Iraqi President Fuad Masum and parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri.

He thus met representatives of the three main groups among Iraq’s population. Abadi represents the majority Shia Muslims, Jabouri represents the Sunni group and Masum is a Kurd.

Sobotka started his two-day visit to Iraq on Saturday, but the cabinet had not informed the media about his trip beforehand due to the adverse security situation.

On Saturday, Sobotka toured the Iraqi National Museum, and he had political talks today.

Dozens of local police and military officers protected the motorcade with Sobotka in Baghdad streets.

Czech-Iraqi relations have quite a long tradition. Former Czechoslovakia established diplomatic relations with Iraq as early as 1933.

Since 2014, the Czech Republic has been a member of the anti-IS coalition. It has mainly contributed to the stabilisation of the liberated regions.

A Czech military medical team spent six months on a mission in western Iraq until May.

At the Balad military base north of Baghdad, a team of Czech military advisers has helped train Iraqi pilots and aviation technicians.

Five Czech police have been deployed in Baghdad since April to train their local counterparts.

($1=22.098 crowns)

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