Britain expected to shut down Basra consulate
BRITAIN is expected to announce the closure of its full consulate in Basra, Iraq’s second city.
• Business leaders condemn proposals
• Britain to keep office in Basra as Baghdad office expanded
The Foreign Office will keep an office in Basra in southern Iraq, but there will be no permanent staffing.
The decision has reportedly been condemned by British business leaders with investments in the area, who have claimed that Britain risks losing major infrastructure projects as a result of the move.
Former Foreign Office minister David Mellor also attacked the closure, saying it was “short-sighted” and “deeply damaging” to British interests.
Ministers are expected to argue that British interests in the oil-rich south of the country will be protected by increased staffing at the embassy in Baghdad.
Diplomats and trade officials will fly down from Baghdad when needed, and the embassy in the capital will be built up.
Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to say that the new arrangements will be more effective and save a large part of the £6.5 million a year costs of the current consulate.
But the BBC said that some British business representatives have claimed that Chinese and Korean entrepreneurs will now secure more of the major infrastructure projects in southern Iraq.
They have said that Britain risks losing vital relationships with Iraqis who often favour those who fought against Saddam Hussein, rather than the Chinese, who opposed invasion.
British troops spent six years in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, handing over control of their base in Basra to US forces in April 2009 and ending combat operations with a sombre remembrance service for the 179 UK servicemen and women killed in the conflict.
David Mellor, former Foreign Office minister responsible for the Middle East, said: “Basra is likely to become in the next decade one of the most prominent cities in the Middle East. It is the centre of the Iraq oil and gas industry, and there are massive reserves to be exploited.
“The decision to shut the British consulate is a short-sighted one and the amount of money saved - allegedly around £6 million - a drop in the ocean compared to the benefit British business can gain by being there, and having a centre of expertise at the consulate to help them.
“I deplore a short-sighted, inept decision, deeply damaging to British interests.”
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The Foreign Secretary will be laying a written ministerial statement today on the FCO’s (Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s) work in Iraq.”
Baroness Nicholson, executive chairman of the Iraq Britain Business Council, said: “I regret the announcement that is coming out today.
“I hope it is a step sideways and not a step backwards. The British business presence down in Basra is absolutely critical.”
She said the Government did recognise the value to British industry of Iraq but blamed budget cuts for the move.
“I think this is a foolish short-term thing but I don’t think that’s a Foreign Office decision, I think it is something that is done from the Treasury,” she said.
She added: “I’m very hopeful that Foreign Office cuts, which I think should not have happened and should not be affecting Basra, may be reversed before too long.”
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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