Iraqi ambassador Dr Hisham Al-Alawi speaks at a reception to celebrate the success of the parliamentary elections in Iraq. Picture: Masi Losi

Pretoria - Iraq’s ambassador to South Africa, Hisham Al-Alawi, expressed concern yesterday that South Africa was not moving faster to buy crude oil from his country and to implement an agreement to work together to refine Iraqi crude oil and gas.

He warned that the opportunity might not last much longer as other countries were competing for Iraq’s oil.

Al-Alawi was speaking at a press conference in Pretoria on Thursday to celebrate what he called Iraq’s successful April 30 legislative elections – the third since dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003 – and also the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy.

He said he had expected the parastatal oil company PetroSA to seize the momentum created by a successful fact-finding visit by South African energy companies and officials to Iraq last year.

He had expected by now it would submit a request to buy oil and also proposals for co-operation between the two countries in refining crude oil and exploiting Iraq gas, using South Africa’s advanced technology, as agreed after the visit.

Al-Alawi said the quality of Iraq crude oil was especially suitable for South African oil refineries. South African officials said it was similar to that of neighbouring Iran. South Africa has been forced to stop buying Iran oil because of US sanctions.

However, the ambassador did note that the Strategic Fuel Fund had made a request to buy oil which Iraq would oblige.

Al-Alawi said Iraq and South Africa had also decided to work together in several other key fields including trade, investment, technical co-operation, tourism and higher education, including exchanges of students and were negotiating a binational commission to deepen relations.

Trade now averaged between R200 million and R500 million a year, which was well below the potential which he set at more than R10 billion a year, he said. He noted the trade ministers had met successfully in South Africa in 2012 to sign an agreement to boost trade and technical co-operation.

Al-Alawi insisted that the security situation in his country need not deter increased co-operation between the two countries, claiming that the media perceptions of Iraq were inaccurate. The South African energy delegation which visited Iraq last year had been favourably impressed, he said, noting that they had safely driven – rather than flying – from the southern city of Basra to the capital Baghdad.

He noted that the death toll of the sectarian violence had dropped from a high of 16 000 to 17 000 a year between 2005 and 2008 to about 3 000 a year between 2009 and 2012, according to UN figures.

But it had risen again to 7 818 last year because of a spillover from the fighting in neighbouring Syria, he said.

Al-Alawi said the Iraqi elections had been deemed “free, fair and very successful” by many local and international observers, including the European Union, with a turn-out of 63 percent of all eligible voters and 73 percent of those who had registered – “similar to South Africa’s”.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia Islamist coalition had won a plurality of 93 seats in the 328 seat Parliament which means it will have to create a coalition to form a government. If it succeeds, Maliki will start a third term as head of government. - Independent Foreign Service

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