Iraqi Minister: 'New Iraq' Will Decide Who Gets Contracts

Once the U.S.-led provisional authority hands power over to Iraqis next year, the Baghdad government will not discriminate against countries wanting to help rebuild the country, Iraq's foreign minister said Monday.

The comments by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (searchappeared to be an implicit criticism of the U.S. decision to bar firms based in countries that opposed the Iraq war from bidding on $18.6 billion in contracts for Iraqi reconstruction projects. The decision, announced earlier this month, sparked widespread criticism in Germany, France and Russia, which have been shut out.

Zebari stressed that he was not criticizing the U.S. decision. But he said the "new Iraq," which will emerge after the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (searchhands power over to Iraqis in July, would do things differently.

"They are free to spend their money the way they want," he said of the Americans.

But, he added, "The new Iraq would not discriminate against any countries" when it comes to reconstruction projects.

Zebari spoke with reporters during a visit to Italy, in which he urged foreign businesses to invest in Iraq despite the tense security situation. Zebari said he expected a "dramatic decrease" in the number of anti-U.S. attacks following the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein (search).

"Yes, there is a security threat, and yes there are problems," he said. "But I think there has been an upward trend" in improving basic services for Iraqis, inspiring their confidence and boosting their security.

Zebari met with Italian businessmen and the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, after making similar stops in Paris, New York and some of Iraq's neighbors. He heads to Egypt on Tuesday.

Italy was a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and has sent 2,300 peacekeepers to help secure the country. Italy is also one of 16 countries in a consortium that has agreed to insure payments of up to $2.4 billion worth of exports to Iraq to help jump-start Iraq's economy.

Zebari, foreign minister of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, said Iraq will soon name an ambassador to Italy.

Iraqi officials also were considering forming a rapid-reaction force of about 700-800 Iraqis to help improve security once the provisional authority hands over power, he said.