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Iraq to get debt relief from Emirates

Times Staff Writer

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki traveled Sunday to the United Arab Emirates, where he won a promise that at least $4 billion of Iraq’s debt would be forgiven.

The visit was a significant step forward in efforts by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government to improve relations with Sunni Arab nations in the region. Maliki’s administration has been criticized for its close ties with Shiite-led Iran and accused of failing to deal firmly with Shiite militias at home.

The government’s crackdown starting in spring on militias in the southern Iraq cities of Basra and Amarah and the large Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad helped clear the way for renewed diplomatic contacts.

The principal of the debt owed by Iraq was put at $4 billion. An Emirates diplomatic source told Reuters news service that the total sum that would be forgiven was closer to $7 billion when interest and arrears were included.

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In addition to canceling the debt, Emirates leader Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan pledged to send an ambassador to Baghdad and help with the reconstruction of holy shrines in Iraq damaged by years of war and civil strife.

Iraq’s finance minister had said last week that several other Sunni Arab countries were planning to set up embassies in Baghdad. Besides the United Arab Emirates, he named Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait.

The embassies of Arab nations were targeted by militant Sunni groups after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, to discourage them from supporting the new government. The Emirates withdrew its ambassador after one of its diplomats was kidnapped. He was later released.

Meanwhile, after two relatively quiet days, violence resumed Sunday.

In Anbar province, a suicide bomber drove a car into a joint Iraqi-American checkpoint near Rawah, about 165 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing five Iraqi police and injuring 18 people, a police source said. He said helicopters took away wounded Americans.

The U.S. military said it had no report on any such incident.

A roadside bomb targeting a leader of a minor Kurdish political party killed seven people in a part of northern Diyala province that Kurds want to incorporate into their semiautonomous region. Mohammed Ramadhan Esa of the National Kurdistan Party was injured, but the explosion killed his wife, three of his children, his sister-in-law and two guards, police said. Three other people were wounded.

A car bomb went off near the entrance of Shaab neighborhood in north Baghdad, killing six people and injuring 14, including three police officers.

In Iskandariya, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, a leader of the concerned citizens group, the U.S.-funded neighborhood security force, was killed in a bombing.

An area north of Sadr City was sealed off Sunday after gunfire erupted Saturday night. Witnesses said a joint U.S.-Iraqi force conducting an operation in the area, once a stronghold of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr, exchanged fire with several gunmen.

The U.S. military said an American soldier died Saturday of noncombat injuries. The cause of death was being investigated. At least 4,114 U.S. service members have died since the war began in 2003, according to the independent website icasualties.org.

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doug.smith@latimes.com

Times staff writer Raheem Salman and special correspondents in Baghdad and Baqubah contributed to this report.


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