House Speaker Pelosi in Iraq on Surprise Visit

Published May 10, 2009

| AP

BAGHDAD -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a surprise one-day visit to Baghdad Sunday and discussed U.S.-Iraqi economic relations with the prime minister, the government spokesman said.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked Pelosi, a California Democrat, to shield Iraq from the demands for reparations from neighboring countries dating back to the actions by the previous ruler Saddam Hussein, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

"Al-Maliki requested the United States protect Iraqi funds and put an end to the demands of other countries which feel they were harmed during the two Gulf wars of the former regime," he added.

Kuwait still claims billions of dollars in war reparations from Iraq dating from the 1990 invasion and has refused appeals by Baghdad to reduce their demands and forgive about $15 billion in Iraqi debt.

A fierce critic of the U.S.-led Iraq war, Pelosi originally opposed the 2007 increase in U.S. troops credited with contributing to a substantial reduction of violence in much of country in the past two years.

She has praised President Obama's plans to bring home two-thirds of the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by August 2010.

In the past, Pelosi has pushed the Iraqi government to make greater efforts at political reconciliation.

Pelosi last visited Iraqi in May 2008, when she also met with al-Maliki, and came in January 2007, shortly after Democrats took control of Congress.

Also Sunday, Iraqi police announced the arrest of trade minister's brother, who was wanted along with several other officials for allegedly embezzling some $7 million from the country's ration program.

Sabah al-Sudani was caught by police Wednesday in southern Iraq carrying large amounts of cash and two passports, in what the government is describing as an attempt to flee the country.

When the security forces first tried to arrest him and other suspects on April 29 in Baghdad, guards at the Trade Ministry opened fire, allowing them to escape.

The incident was embarrassing for the government, which has been begun responding to the rising public outcry against corruption. Al-Maliki called Saturday for a new campaign against corruption.

Corruption watchdog Transparency International rated Iraq in 2008 as the third most corrupt country in the world after Somalia and Myanmar.

But the Iraqi government has long downplayed the corruption riddling the country's ministries and hamstringing its reconstruction efforts after years of war.

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